Historians are Getting Less Blame-y and You Should, Too!

sleepwalkersSo privileged, last night, to hear a lecture at Kalamazoo College by Christopher Clark, one of the world’s leading historians. His recent book on the causes of World War I is called The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914; and please note the interesting “How” in the subtitle. Clark says he used “how” because “why” discussions tend to get abstract: he wanted to keep things focused and concrete. Also, he said (paraphrasing) that “why” discussions almost inevitably devolve into questions of blame and finger-pointing, which are in the end both reductive and of limited use to historians or anyone.

Many people know that blame, harsh judgements, etc., are unhelpful in the personal realm; I find it fascinating that they are similarly unhelpful even in the “big” realm of history.

Clark also drew some interesting parallels between the pre-World War I world and our own post-Cold War one; although he warned against taking such comparisons too far. I will definitely be reading his book, and if you’re a history buff, you should, too.

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