Monday, February 20, 2006

History and Historians

Back in the year 2000, in Irving versus Lipstadt, Professor Richard Evans concluded that
"Irving has fallen so far short of the standards of scholarship customary amongst historians that he does not deserve to be called a historian at all."
Irving went on to lose the case and the
presiding judge in that case, Charles Gray, wrote that Irving was "an active Holocaust denier ... anti-Semitic and racist".
Even the Grauniad calls him a "revisionist historian". Doesn't "revisionist" negate the word "historian"?
The splendid site Holocaust Denial on Trial, looking at the Lipstadt case sums up Richard Evans as saying
Irving is a particularly dangerous spokesperson for Holocaust denial because over the years he has consistently portrayed himself as a scrupulous historian with an unrivalled knowledge of the archival sources and an unerring eye for forgeries and falsifications. As we saw in Part I, he has repeatedly claimed that he is waging a ‘campaign for real history’ against legend and myth, truth against falsehood. ‘Real history’, he says, is based on the archives, not on copying other historians’ work, which is how academic, university-based historians in his opinion proceed. Many reviewers, and still more journalists, have been at least partly taken in by this ceaselessly propagated self-promotion and have paid tribute to Irving’s skill and energy as a researcher. But even if they have done so, they have often gone on to complain that Irving manipulates and distorts the sources he uses. If, like Peter Hoffmann, Charles Sydnor, Martin Broszat, Hugh Trevor-Roper, David Cannadine, or Eberhard J├Ąckel, for instance, they have themselves been familiar with these sources, their condemnation of Irving’s work for its inaccuracy and bias has been particularly detailed and unremitting.
So, why, on tonight's news, did the BBC insist on saying "British historian David Irving". Surely someone whose professional status as a historian has been so deservingly rubbished is no longer fit to be called a "historian".

Footnote: I've just discovered Deborah Lipstadt has a blog. She sums up the issue with commendable insight:
In principle I do not believe in laws which entail censorship. I believe in free speech and, moreover, I don't think such laws are efficacious.However, having said that, I also recognize that Germany and Austria are sovereign states with a democratic system. And, more importantly, they have a unique history which gives Holocaust denial a different resonance in their country than it might in the United States or the UK.
Finally, when all is said and done the way to defeat these kinds of lies is with what I do in the classroom and what we did in the courtroom during my trial in the UK: With the historical facts, the evidence, the testimony. In short with the truth.

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