History the most vital subject we have

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.


4 thoughts on “History the most vital subject we have

  1. korhomme says:

    You are quite right. The VC is a medical oncologist, and was thus ‘trained’ at university rather than being ‘educated’, and seems not to understand the difference.

    There are plenty of quotes about the importance of history; ‘those who don’t learn the lessons of history are condemned to repeat it’ and so on.

  2. There is a certain irony, that the last VC of QUB that has a history qualification David Kier gives his name to the school where Chemistry and Chemical Engineering etc. takes place.

    I’m going to offer a bit of dissent to this, of course History is an important subject, you could easily argue without History (the archiving and interpretation of ideas, events and evidence etc.) Science wouldn’t exist.

    Newton was a great historian of mathematical practices and physical principles that can be traced back to earlier routes. Google “Newton the thief” to see how being good with records is just as politically powerful as being a mathematical discover

    I will say, it’s not fair to say there has been a crackdown specifically on History in the name of STEM, as STEM courses like Mathematics have been cut from the University of Ulster.

    We also have to examine the economics of student demand for these subjects.

  3. My alma mater, Boston University, in line with many other universities, names the relevant school, the College of Arts and Sciences. Pretty straightforward that you can’t have one without the other.

  4. It’s going to be an binary online poll one day … Are you Philistine or Luddite?

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