At The New Republic, Graham Vyse asks this question to several historians and gets several different answers. This, of course, should be expected. Historical analogies are always problematic.
Rick Perlstein, for example, describes “the whole concept of the ‘historical parallel’ as perverse, and bearing little resemblance to actually mature understanding of the present in light of the past.”
Kevin Mattson says “For God’s sake, if you don’t see an analogy there, where the heck do you go for analogies?” He says “quite honestly, I don’t understand where [Perlstein’s] coming from. I’m kind of at a loss.”
Luke Nichter says: “I guess, as a historian, it’s not in my training to work hard to get my name in the press…At the end of the day, my bread and butter is contributing to our understanding of the past, not of the present.”
And here’s CNN’s own Tim Naftali: “Engaging the present is not a professional obligation for an historian,” but he does add “anybody who’s studied Nixon and Watergate has an obligation to be a resource so that nothing like that ever happens again.”
Read the entire piece here. It is a great conversation about the role of the historian in public life and the relationship between the past and the present. Where do I fall? Somewhere in the middle, but I resonate the most with Perlstein. Go read Why Study History: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past. 🙂