If you know that countries are traditionally overrun right to left, using Fire1, and that the Roman Conquest was a Good Thing, as the Britons were only Natives at that time, then you have almost certainly read 1066 and All That: A Memorable History of England, comprising all the parts you can remember including one hundred and three Good Things, five Bad Kings, and two Genuine Dates. Which all historians probably should.

Americanists have their own versions—the work of John Hodgman is perhaps closest in spirit, though less thoroughly devoted to reproducing and amplifying the inimitable style of Confused Undergraduate.

I have a vague idea that one of the animating impulses behind these works, an apolitical delight in rascally behavior, once also moved serious historians of the United States. Charles and Mary Beard’s Rise of American Civilization pushes its progressive interpretation forward with a constant undercurrent of glee in the occasional bad actor; so does Richard Hofstadter’s American Political Tradition take a certain pleasure in scoundrels.

What happened? Did the profession simply outgrow satire (after all a form perfected by juveniles)? Did history become too immediately dreadful? Does humor belong in history?


1And, according to certain unreconstructed antiquarians, the Sword.

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