Historian Carl Trueman, author of the recent Histories and Fallacies: Problems Faced in the Writing of History, has a piece at Ref21 about the importance of cynical historians (sounds like he’s trying to justify his own existence!). His point is that for all of the hype and hyperbole about every new intellectual or cultural fad, most of the biggies (he even includes September 11 [I’ve stopped calling it 9/11, a la Martin Amis]) in history tend to have little impact on average people. Thus, historians are needed to put a proverbial fork “in it.” Here’s a couple of doozies:
We live in a Warhol world where everybody wants their fifteen minutes of fame, preferably while still here to enjoy it. You can see this even in writing style. Too many theologians think that the first person singular pronoun is like a main verb: no English sentence is properly complete without one. It derives from overestimating the importance of the here and now; or, to put it more pointedly, the importance of ourselves and our contributions.
And this one:
And that is why church historians play such an important role and our cynicism is such a boon. Church history keeps things in perspective. Through reading the texts and studying the actions and events of the past we can truly say that we have seen it all before. Thus, whatever it is that the latest guru is suggesting, it definitely will not work as well as expected, probably will not work at all, and anyway it will be a hundred years or more before we can say whether it made a real difference or not.
For the entire thing see “The Price of Everything.”