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Seven Questions And Comments I Might Write If This Salon Article On “America’s Worst Historians” Was A Student Paper And I Was Grading It.

August 20, 2012, 9:38 pm

This article.

1. Why do you assert that journalists aren’t able “to investigate in depth”? Whether they do it well or badly, isn’t that exactly what they’re trained to do?

2. You claim to be talking about journalists, but, as you note, your two lead examples (Doris Kearns Goodwin and Fareed Zakaria) are both political science Ph.Ds. Are you critiquing journalism or political science?

3. You cite Peter Hoffer’s Past Imperfect to criticize Doris Kearns Goodwins. How does Hoffer’s discussion of Joseph Ellis in the same book affect your argument? How does Jon Wiener’s approach in Historians in Trouble differ from Hoffer’s?

4. In your comment “David McCullough, formerly of Sports Illustrated,” what is the connection to SI intended to evoke?

5. Your example of the problems with McCullough’s work is the HBO series based on his biography of John Adams. Is he responsible for the problems of the TV show?

6. Do the examples of Michael Bellesiles, Stephen Ambrose, Ellis, Niall Ferguson, and Newt Gingrich change your argument about the effect of doing a history dissertation? (in Gingrich’s case, the affect of it as well).

7. Read this piece by James Fallows. Fallows is a journalist; Ferguson has a D.Phil in history. Does that alter your argument?

(Eric points me to an even more damning indictment of Ferguson.)

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