About My Job: The Historian

by Conor Friedersdorf

A reader writes:

I am a historian, and I watch people get history wrong all the time. The thing I would emphasize most is that while people like to assert that in the old days it was like THIS, in fact human history is very diverse. There are almost no generalizations that apply to all human societies. Some people in the past were less materialistic than we are, but others just as much so. Some were less violent, some more violent. Some were relatively egalitarian, others divided into a handful of the obscenely rich and a mass of the poor. Some were tolerant and welcoming of outsiders, others savagely xenophobic and given to burning outcasts as witches. The real lesson of history is that we have found many, many different ways to live, and there is very little in the way of “tradition” we can point to to justify or attack our own ways.