Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Arrogance of Academia

I hate the Arrogance of Academia!

The academic study of history has ruined my love of studying history. I have always been proud of what I would not-so-humbly refer to as a gift for insight and analysis, and for piecing together puzzles more completely, and with more rapidity, than do most people. Yet here I find myself in a situation where my fellow students and I are being told HOW to study history. We are given a list of questions to ask during our searches for primary sources. We are told to create a thesis, a hypothesis, a lens through which to study our data. We are told how to create our theses, how to organize them, and how to present them. It's like Rembrandt showing up at art school and being summarily handed a paint-by-number.

I hate this claim that "scholarly articles" are more reliable sources than magazines, diaries, and interview transcripts. Think of all of the political/idealogical/social agendas that exist in the world at any given time. Should I really trust a scholarly medical journal from the 1930s, when the consensus of that time was that mentally retarded individuals should be sterilized, while disregarding a magazine that states that human beings have a fundamental right to reproduce? We must trust what the universities deem to be the best. Why?! Universities are governments and are not without agenda or bias!

We are granted - even required to use - interpretive license when cataloging history, but not creative license for writing it. The rules are oppressive. Students of history are required to state as fact their opinions or interpretations about a given number of "primary" sources. We are required to pick a side, then required to argue that side. Most people who read history books don't realize this, and expect the book to be a collection of facts. This is why EVERY SINGLE introductory lecture for EVERY SINGLE history class begins with “History: it's not just boring facts. It's analyses, interpretations...”. The line between an author's interpretations and those facts is very thin, and virtually non-existent for those who are not aware that it does exist. This is bad academics. I don't want to be told how to write. I don't want to be told how to think. Neither does anyone else.