Clearing Out The Clippings, No. 58

Just yesterday I was looking at the catalog of a nearby college. I couldn’t believe the courses they were offering. How to use a computer. How to make a good investment. How to get a good job. How to, how to. THere was hardly one course to make the inner man grow. If you suggest that a course in ancienthistory may play a role in a person’s growth, they laugh at you. What relevance does it have to our life today?

— Sophie Mumford (interviewed by Studs Terkel)

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. As a historian,*I worry sometimes about whether history even matters. All I can really say is that we can learn a lot from history, but the lessons aren’t really all that clear. One of my working candidates for what we can learn is humility: by studying others, we gain insight into our own fallibility.

    *I should probably say “aspiring historian,” but I don’t like saying it. It strikes me as falsely modest. In my view, a “historian” is someone who does history. I’ve read a lot of history, thought about it a lot, and have done my own primary research about which I have also written, although outside of a few encyclopedia articles and one book review, not for publication.

    • I’ll say this. No matter how non-relevant a college history course might be to the real world, it’s still more likely to teach you how to use a computer, get a job, or make a good investment than the how to use a computer/invest/job hunt class will.

  2. I sometimes wish college had a longer runway for its graduates, give them a taste of larger realities in the course of their education before they’re turned loose on the workaday world. I run across lots of new CS and IS graduates in my work, most of whom have to be untrained out of their bad habits. Case in point: they’ve never been taught to use a version control system or write unit tests for their code. They don’t know how to work as a team. Some of these people should have gone into a different discipline: they’re not pessimistic enough to anticipate failure.

    The best coders I’ve ever met had strong creative chops outside their discipline. I can’t speak for other disciplines but I think it’s true there are a few insanely productive individuals at the top, a larger cadre of moderately insightful folks below them and a great lumpen horde of people who need to be managed within an inch of their lives.

    History and especially Literature gives us a vision of how little we’ve changed internally as a species. Though the external world has changed, and changes with increasing rapidity with each turn of our planet around the sun, the faces may change but the masks remain the same. Only history can teach this truth.

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