(The Daily Signal) – Elite Western institutions have not only failed to pass on our history and traditions, in many cases, they have intentionally tried to tear them down.
The result is generations of Americans entirely untethered from their past. At best, they know much that isn’t so.
That’s the theme of my new podcast, “History Reconsidered,” which I co-host with Sumantra Maitra. Maitra is an editor at The American Conservative and a fellow at the Royal Historical Society. We will seek to fill in the gaps of that institutional failure.
Modern history is wholly unsuited to public interest in the discipline. In the ivory tower, there’s increasingly an emphasis on micro-social studies or, more perniciously, on rebuking historical figures for their “sins” against modernity.
History is boiled down to “oppressors” and “oppressed,” where race and gender mean everything and individual character means nothing.
The media environment supercharges this outlook. A pair of stories this week highlight the problem.
The first was a piece published by the BBC on Tuesday with the incredible headline: “Black women most likely to die in medieval plague, Museum of London says.”
The study, according to the BBC, suggests that the Black Death was more likely to kill black women in London and that that somehow proves there was widespread racism—or something.
Without any evidence, the article states confidently in its lead paragraph: “The study is the first archaeological exploration showing how racism influenced a person’s risk of death during what was known as the Great Pestilence or Great Mortality.” When one digs into the conclusions of the piece, one finds a few holes in the thesis.
First, are we really to believe that there was a substantial population of people with sub-Saharan African ancestry living in 14th-century London? That seems dubious. Neither the piece nor the museum’s 2021 study provide evidence explaining this rather strange assertion.
The “community note” on BBC’s post on X, formerly known as Twitter, did a pretty good job of debunking the headline of the piece.
“35,000 died. The study is from a sample of 41 bodies selected from 634 recovered. Of these, 19 were female, and of these 6 are surmised to be mixed race and 3 African. The burials of those three women were as dignified as all others. The headline is not supported by this sample.”
So, this attempt to turn the history of the Black Plague, a calamity that killed more than 25 million people in the 14th century, into a tale of racism is complete nonsense.
The second ridiculous piece was published by The Telegraph of London on Monday with the headline: “Roman emperor was trans, says museum.” In this case, it’s the North Hertfordshire Museum located in a town north of London.
Again, when we look for evidence that third-century Roman emperor Elagabalus was “trans,” we find only absurdities.
“We know that Elagabalus identified as a woman and was explicit about which pronouns to use, which shows that pronouns are not a new thing,” said Keith Hoskins, executive member for enterprise and arts at the North Herts Council, according to The Telegraph.
The museum came to its conclusions mainly based on the account of Roman historian Cassius Dio, a contemporary of Elagabalus. He’d called the emperor a “wife, mistress, and queen.”
In one account, Dio says that Elagabalus told one of his many lovers, “Call me not Lord, for I am a Lady.”
That was hardly the case of Dio adhering to modern cultural sensitivities. Instead, these were common Roman insults. Dio was painting a picture of an emperor of not just rank incompetence, but one who was depraved, effeminate, and a slave to his appetites.
The museum took the barbs from Elagabalus’ enemies and detractors, and concocted a narrative about how the ancients used pronouns just like how people on the Left do today.
This is ideologically motivated nonsense, but reflects what is increasingly being pumped out of academia into the public discourse.
Keep that in mind when you hear people say that a statue or piece of history needs to be taken down and placed in a museum to “contextualize” it.
At best it will be slapped with pronouns or shamed for various “sins” against modernity. In other cases, it will look like the following.
What’s apparent in both museum stories is that history is being abused by the academy to fit extremely narrow ideological ends. In the case of the “Black Death hits London, black women suffer most” story, it’s clear that extremely thin and flimsy archeological data was used to fit the “racial reckoning” narrative and critical race theory ideology that became so widespread in the summer of 2020 and since.
In the case of the “trans” emperor, we can see a museum desperately trying to jam modern LGBTQ themes into ancient history, perhaps to both justify the modern movement or to generally prove that it is being “inclusive.”
The result may be that museums cater to the attitudes of a certain modern audience, but they hardly help one understand the past or something deeper about the world we came from.
It’s one thing to be thinking about the Roman Empire, but museums do a disservice to visitors when they peddle complete nonsense with the institutional stamp of approval.
Unfortunately, when history isn’t being destroyed, it’s being rewritten to fit politically correct narratives.
That’s a travesty because many Americans still seek to learn about history as it really was, and are still interested in gaining wisdom from the past, rather than having it fulfill their narcissistic desires to see their own attitudes projected backward.
It’s for that reason that my co-host and I launched “History Reconsidered.” Our goal is to bring a little depth and common sense to discussions about events and great figures of the past so desperately needed at this time.