The Duck of Minerva

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Historian snark

August 6, 2006

My unscientific observation is that historians tend to be much snarkier than political scientists. Or, at least, they’re better at it.

These were the words of the arch-royalist Pierre de Belloy, whose Conferences des edicts de pacification (1600) has the distinction of being the longest and perhaps the most tedious tract to issue from the toleration controversy of the sixteenth century.

— E.M. Beame, “The Limits of Toleration in Sixteenth-Century France,” Studies in the Renaissance, Vol. 13 (1966), p. 250.

This is from an article I just happen to be reading at the moment. Much better examples of historian snark exist. I remember Lenman’s two-volume series, England’s Colonial Wars,1550-1688 and Britain’s Colonial Wars, 1688-1783, as containing particularly snarky discussion of Elizabeth’s policies towards Ireland and the New World, as well as of the American War for Independence.

I get the sense that British historians would, if there was such a thing, win the Best Academic Snark Award in any given year.

If anyone has examples of good snark from international-relations scholars or other political scientists, let me know.

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Daniel H. Nexon is a Professor at Georgetown University, with a joint appointment in the Department of Government and the School of Foreign Service. His academic work focuses on international-relations theory, power politics, empires and hegemony, and international order. He has also written on the relationship between popular culture and world politics.