On the witness stand in a libel trial, Henry Ford famously said: “History is bunk.” Ford was very good with machinery, but no one ever considered him a well-educated man.
Something rather like the “history is bunk” statement has led to a recent academic dustup among our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic. On May 30, Patrick Johnston, Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast, opined: Society doesn’t need a 21-year-old who is a sixth century historian. It needs a 21-year-old who really understands how to analyse things, understands the tenets of leadership and contributing to society, who is a thinker and someone who has the potential to help society drive forward.’
So, what if Johnston is right? After all, what good is history?
According to Jonathan Healy, answering Johnston in June, 2016, history is interesting, important, skill-building stuff, but most of all, the profession that serves as umpires when the politicians go out of bounds.
William H. McNeill, then-AHA president, expressed similar ideas in a 1985 essay.
The changing perspectives of historical understanding are the very best introduction we can have to the practical problems of real life.