If history is deprived of the Truth, we are left with nothing but an idle, unprofitable tale.
~Polybius, The Rise of the Roman Empire
History has moved to the front line of social conflict, but rarely has it been so poorly understood and sketchily taught. After decades of declining interest, only 13 percent of eighth graders achieve proficiency in the subject today. The New York Times reports that “about 40 percent of eighth graders scored ‘below basic’ in U.S. history last year, compared with 34 percent in 2018 and 29 percent in 2014.” This phenomenon can be seen across the West. The study of and interest in the past, noted the Economist in 2019, has largely disappeared in the UK. Study of the 19th century, meanwhile, seems to be vanishing from European classrooms. “We are in danger of mass amnesia, being cut off from knowledge of our own cultural history,” noted the late Jane Jacobs in her 2004 book, Dark Age Ahead. When I show my students a picture of Lenin, barely one-in-ten of them recognize it.
Universities should be beacons of dispassionate learning, so it is particularly unfortunate that they have also been increasingly complicit in obliterating much that is valuable to historical instruction and understanding. In a 2013 article for the Guardian, Ashley Thorne lamented…