Is European History in Crisis?6 min read
Ladies and gentlemen, I must admit, I am rather flabbergasted by the very idea of this question. Is European History in crisis? Goodness gracious, the very thought of it makes me want to exclaim, “Heavens to Betsy!”
Now, I may not be the most learned scholar of European History, but I have read a book or two, and I have seen a painting or two, and I have visited a museum or two. And, if I may say so myself, I have never seen European History in such a state of crisis. Indeed, I have seen a great deal of drama, tragedy, and comedy, but never crisis.
Of course, there are those who might argue that European History is in crisis because it is being rewritten, reinterpreted, and revised by the very people who study it. But I would say to these people, “Goodness gracious, don’t you know that that’s the point?” European History is not a static, monolithic entity that can be frozen in time like a fly in amber. It is a living, breathing, evolving thing that must be examined and re-examined by each generation.
And, yes, sometimes that re-examination can be messy, and sometimes it can be contentious, and sometimes it can be downright confusing. But that’s not a crisis, that’s just the way it is. That’s the price we pay for having a rich and diverse history that encompasses so many cultures, languages, and perspectives.
So, if you ask me, the only crisis in European History is the crisis of those who refuse to see it as anything other than a static, monolithic entity. These are the folks who want to freeze history in time, to lock it in a museum or a textbook, to preserve it like a precious artifact that must be protected at all costs.
But, my dear friends, that is not the way of history. History is messy, it’s contentious, it’s confusing, and it’s always changing. And that’s what makes it so fascinating. It’s like a grand, sprawling, never-ending story, with plot twists and cliffhangers and unexpected characters popping up all the time.
Now, some of you might say:
“But, what about the decline of Western Civilization? What about the rise of nationalism and populism? What about the erosion of democratic values?”
Well, my friends, I would say to you that these are not problems with European History, these are problems with European society. They are political, social, economic, and cultural issues that are affecting every aspect of our lives, not just our understanding of history.
And, let’s be honest, folks, these are not new problems. They are the same old problems that have been plaguing human societies since the dawn of time. The only thing that’s different is the context in which they are playing out. But that’s not a crisis, that’s just life.
So, my friends, I would say to you that European History is not in crisis. It’s alive and well and as vibrant as ever. It’s a source of inspiration, insight, and entertainment. It’s a testament to the richness and diversity of human experience. And it’s a reminder that we are all part of a grand, sprawling, never-ending story.
So, let us embrace that story, warts and all. Let us explore it, debate it, question it, and challenge it. Let us see it for what it is: a magnificent tapestry of cultures, languages, and perspectives that is always changing and always evolving.
And, most of all, let us remember that European History is not a crisis. It’s an adventure. So, let’s saddle up our horses and ride off into the sunset.
Or Maybe, As Twain would say:
“History doesn’t repeat itself, but it does rhyme.” And right now, it seems like European history is stuck in a bit of a poetic quagmire.
One of the main issues plaguing the field of European history today is the rise of nationalism and the revisionist view of history that often comes with it. In recent years, we have seen a surge in nationalist movements across Europe, from the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party to the Catalan independence movement. These groups often seek to rewrite history in order to serve their own political goals, whether it be to justify xenophobia, promote secession, or paint their nation as a victim rather than an aggressor.
This has led to some truly bizarre and alarming trends in European historiography. In Hungary, for example, the government of Viktor Orbán has sought to rewrite the country’s history to portray it as a heroic defender of Christianity against the Islamic hordes. This has involved everything from building a massive statue of King Stephen I, the first Christian ruler of Hungary, to claiming that the medieval Battle of Mohács, in which the Ottoman Empire defeated the Kingdom of Hungary, was not a defeat but a valiant sacrifice for the nation.
Meanwhile, in Poland, the ruling Law and Justice party has sought to downplay the role of Poles in the Holocaust and promote the idea that the nation was a victim of both Nazi and Soviet aggression. This has led to a diplomatic crisis with Israel, whose government has accused Poland of whitewashing history and stifling free speech.
These revisionist movements are often accompanied by a rejection of expertise and a distrust of academics, journalists, and other “elites” who are seen as out of touch with the “real” concerns of ordinary people. This has made it difficult for historians and other scholars to push back against the more outlandish claims of nationalist movements, which often rely on emotional appeals and simplistic slogans rather than careful analysis and nuanced argumentation.
But it’s not just nationalist movements that are causing headaches for European historians. There are also more mundane issues, such as the decreasing interest in history among young people, the rising cost of academic publishing, and the precarious state of many university history departments.
One of the main reasons for the declining interest in history is the perception that it is boring, irrelevant, and out of touch with modern concerns. This is partly the fault of historians themselves, who often write in dense, jargon-filled prose and fail to make their research accessible to a broader audience. But it’s also a reflection of the broader cultural zeitgeist, which prizes entertainment and instant gratification over serious reflection and intellectual inquiry.
At the same time, the cost of academic publishing has skyrocketed in recent years, making it more difficult for historians to disseminate their research to a wider audience. This has led to the rise of predatory publishers who charge exorbitant fees for low-quality journals, as well as a growing movement among academics to boycott these publishers and promote open-access publishing.
Finally, many university history departments are facing funding cuts and the threat of closure, as universities struggle to balance their budgets and prioritize more “practical” fields of study. This has led to a situation where many history departments are understaffed, underfunded, and under pressure to produce research that is “relevant” to the needs of the university and the wider community.
So is European history in crisis? It certainly seems that way. But as Twain would remind us, crises can also be opportunities for growth and renewal. European historians must take seriously the challenge of engaging with a wider audience and making their research accessible and relevant to the concerns of today’s world. They must also fight against the rising tide of nationalism and revisionism, and promote a vision of history that celebrates the continent’s diversity, recognizes the harm done in the past, and looks towards a future of peace and cooperation. This is no easy task, and it will require a great deal of effort from educators, policymakers, and citizens alike. But if we are to learn from the past and build a better future, it is a task that we must take on with all the seriousness and dedication that it deserves. Ultimately, the fate of European history is in our hands, and it is up to us to ensure that it remains a source of inspiration and wisdom for generations to come.