To the Editor:
The latest issue of The Chronicle carried an article about our recent book, The History Manifesto, and the worldwide discussion it has inspired. The article’s headline — “Historians Attack the Data and the Ethics of Colleagues’ Manifesto” — may have misled readers about both the content of the article and the substance of the broader debate the book addresses.
The article picked out five critical voices out of the many who have found the book beneficial to the debate and to academia’s current challenges. Following their critique, the article stated that “[s]ome readers accuse Ms. Guldi and Mr. Armitage of being less than transparent” about changes made to the online text of the book. When concerns were raised, we immediately addressed them with a post on the book’s open-access website and by taking action to clarify the record of publication with the help of our publisher, Cambridge University Press. There was no intent to deceive readers and therefore no question of an ethical breach.
The article then goes on to follow the critique of Deborah Cohen and Peter Mandler in The American Historical Review that “the question of data takes on added significance here, because The History Manifesto argues for the importance of large data sets and the role of historians interpreting them.” We have addressed those charges at greater length and presented new data in the course of replies to our critics in The American Historical Review and in Annales.
Readers should also be aware that The Chronicle’s reporter made no attempt to contact one of the book’s two authors, David Armitage, at any point. Nor were either of us given the chance to respond to charges made in the article by the historian Lynn Hunt.
The History Manifesto tackles questions of the first importance for historians, humanists, and academics in general: among them, the “crisis of the humanities,” in the United States and beyond; the role of scholars in public debate; the opportunities afforded by new technologies and new media for research, scholarship, and publication. Unbalanced reporting under a misleading headline poorly serves the serious issues at stake for students, scholars, and the wider public addressed in The History Manifesto.
At a time when the liberal-arts curriculum is under attack, the academy as a whole desperately needs a positive vision of how the humanities and social sciences can contribute new forms of publishing and research for the public good. The global reaction to The History Manifesto — more than 80 reviews and responses from at least 18 countries in the six months since publication — has shown the urgency of these questions for a very wide range of readers. It also puts the objections of a handful of critics into broader perspective.
Professor of History
Assistant Professor of History