The Vice Chancellor of Queen’s University created outrage by demeaning History graduates in a recent interview. I am not prone to joining in such outrage, but on this occasion I did. He could not have been more fundamentally wrong.
History, a subject in which I got a ‘C’ at GCSE, is the most important subject there is.
Of course, here in Northern Ireland we are particularly awful at it, splitting ourselves educationally and politically along sectarian lines on either side of which lies a view of history which is extreme, ridiculous – but totally unchallenged. Indeed, extreme and ridiculous historical narratives are positively encouraged by those wishing to maintain political power.
However, it was worse than that. In a world where we have the entirety of human knowledge (but also of human mythology and ignorance) on a device which fits in our pocket, the ability to tell accurate from inaccurate, reliable from unreliable and indeed basically right from wrong has never been more important. History teaches you how to do that.
Worse of all in this case was that it consisted of a scientist having a go at humanities. Yet I am typing this on an Apple device. Do they sell in such huge numbers because of the science and technology behind them? Actually, no. They sell because of their design and innovation – the sort of thing delivered not by science, but by creativity. Mass profit is delivered by humanities graduates, in other words…
I fear the Vice Chancellor needs to do rather more than apologise. Indeed, if he believes universities are merely glorified job centres for scientists, he needs fundamentally to consider whether he is in the right job.