What is academic history for?

Paula A. Michaels at the Oxford University Press blog:

Writing on Saturday in The Age, popular historian Paul Ham launched a frontal assault on “academic history” produced by university-based historians primarily for consumption by their professional peers.

In his article, Ham muses on whether these writings ever “enlightened or defied anyone or just pinged the void of indifference” Lamenting its alleged inaccessibility and narrow audience, Ham asks with incredulity:

What is academic history for?

Ham’s is only the latest in a steady stream of attacks castigating historians and other scholars for their inability to engage the general public effectively. New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof sent American academia into a collective apoplectic fit with a February column imploring academics to make a greater contribution to policy debates as public intellectuals.

Less convinced than Ham of the purposeful obscurantism of academic writing, Kristof nonetheless met with a sharp rebuke from the academy, which defended its track record for engagement and faulted Kristof for pointing only to the highest profile venues to judge scholars’ participation in debates beyond the Ivory Tower.

As political scientist Corey Robin observes:

there are a lot of gifted historians. And only so many slots for them at The New Yorker.

More here.