Friday, 12 October 2018

Correspondence on David Starkey

From Sean Lang

This isn't really good enough. Starkey's point about life experience informing history is a valid one for debate, but this piece moves on from it into an attack on his polemical style and his politics. & there are plenty of prominent left-wing historians on tv - Schama, Beard, Olusoga.

My Reply

I have just received this reply from Sean Lang to my brief article on David Starkey. Since the response was put in the public domain, it is worth commentating on.  I stand by the point I made regarding life experiences informing history. From my perspective, I approach the study of history from a historical materialist standpoint. I believe history has its own laws and the uncovering and understanding of those laws are paramount.

As Marx said “Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honoured disguise and borrowed language”.

This is not to say that life experiences are worthless, they are not, but for the study of history, you need a much deeper understanding of historical processes than relying on a past relationship with a close relative. If that relative or partner happened to be another historian, then that is a different matter.

As regards Starkey’s politics and polemical style I believe he is fair game and well capable of defending himself. If Starkey would like to use my blog to defend himself, he is more than welcome. Lastly to describe Mary Beard as left wing is stretching things a bit. Beard is an excellent classical historian, but her political outlook is Liberal in the best sense of the word. As for Schama this just patently absurd. On David Olusoga I am not that familiar with his work so cannot yet comment.