Am I a “Conservative Historian?”

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Yesterday I got an e-mail from a writer requesting a phone interview.  The writer was working on a piece on “conservative historians” in the academy.  Several sources had told this writer to contact me.   Here is how I responded to the request:  “Thanks for the e-mail.  Sounds like a great piece, but I don’t consider myself a ‘conservative historian’ and I am not interested in going on record as one.  Good luck with it–I will try to do a post at my blog when the piece appears.”

I have never understood myself as a “conservative historian,” but it is apparent that others out there–perhaps readers of this blog–believe that I am a “conservative historian.”  (Others, of course, think I am a flaming liberal).

Frankly, I am not even sure what “conservative historian” means.  Does this mean that I am a historian who does not take many risks in my scholarship?  Does this mean that I write about subjects that might be deemed “conservative?”  Does this mean that my personal politics are conservative and somehow these apparent political convictions impact my work as a historian?  Does this mean that I don’t think historians should be activists?  I have no idea.

Thoughts?

5 thoughts on “Am I a “Conservative Historian?”

  1. Perhaps the person conflated “conservative historian” and “historian who is an openly practicing Christian”? I think that sometimes people consider adhering to Christianity an inherently conservative thing (as inaccurate/anachronistic that is), regardless of modifiers like “progressive”. I don’t think it would be good journalism to perpetuate that assumption, but I wonder if that’s part of what led them to you?

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  2. When I read “conservative historian”, I thought it meant a politically conservative person who is also a historian and people are interested in how the two affect each other.

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  3. I think part of the problem with our national political discussions is they’ve become shrouded in an increasingly vague and unhelpful lexicon of terms that perhaps once represented political positions but which by today have become more tribal flags — terms like “left,” “right,” “liberal,” “conservative,” etc. Reminds me of the Blues and Greens who tore 6th century Byzantium apart, starting as sports teams but evolving (devolving?) into vague political groups. In our modern vague political climate political allegiances are binary (one or the other) and absolute, even if what they’re supposed to represent is like the shifting sands: Under Trump, some self-described conservatives favor protectionist policies when others are free-marketers. Some are isolationist and others still think the Iraq War was necessary. Some think that constantly cutting taxes and “burning the [Federal government] house” down is the way to growth and freedom, while other conservatives espouse fiscal responsibility (e.g., making a plan to get our debt under control), etc. So describing what constitutes a “conservative” (or any other political label) is like playing the proverbial wack-a-mole game. But in this atmosphere of political tribes, there are push-button issues and many I strongly suspect would put “Evangelicals” under a conservative label. Again, that certainly doesn’t match the reality of the real complexity of Evangelical life in the US in 2018 on the ground, but, well, this is a great example of why our political “dialogue” just hits brick walls.

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