Saturday, May 25, 2013

Runciman's Icky Critics

I wondered whether Frazerand Runcimanhad earned any Doctorates other than the scads of honorary ones they each received. (It seems quite clear that a century ago, a Doctorate was not considered nearly so essential in academic circles as it is today. All sorts of perfectly leading authorities and illustrious professors stopped at an MA and then got on with their careers.) On the title page of the Bibliography and General Index of the unabridged Golden Bough, I saw that Frazer actually had three Doctorates: in addition to an LL.D. and a Litt.D. he had a D.C.L., which is either a Doctorate of the Canon Law of the Catholic Church, or a Doctorate of Civil Law. I confess I know little about the Doctorate of Canon Law and whether it's conceivable that Frazer would've had one; however, he was very interested in Latin literature and ancient and Medieval Italy, and a given university typically offers either an LL.D. or a Doctorate of Civil Law and not both, and Frazer remained very closely tied to Cambridge for his entire academic life and career, two things which would suggest that his D.C.L. was a Doctorate of Canon Law.

In any case: I found nothing at all about non-honorary degrees earned by Runciman, other than a mention in his New York Times obituary that he had earned an MA at Trinity College, Cambridge. And that's only the New York Times, so who knows. Neither the 1951 nor the 1972 Encyclopædia Britannica contains an article about, nor even by Runciman. Shocking.

In the course of searching for evidence of his degrees, I ran into a lot of familiar and unpleasant criticism of Runciman by nasty little Eurocentric revisionist worms like Thomas Madden and Christopher Tyerman, who unfortunately seem to be the most highly-esteemed living historians of the Crusades. (Tyerman brushes aside Runciman's assertions that many Crusaders were adventurers looking for material gain by pointing out that the majority of Crusaders lost financially through the Crusades rather than winning. Does he really think that would-be Crusaders at the time could foretell how the Crusades would go economically, and that therefore everyone with mercenary motives backed out? Or is he only pretending to be that stupid?) Runciman is probably still the most highly-esteemed Western historian of the Middle Ages, living or dead, but unfortunately, as he is dead, he can no longer personally respond to the ridiculous attacks upon him and his works. I guess it's up to me. How ridiculous are the attacks on Runciman's work? This ridiculous: the main thrust of these attacks is that Runciman wrote well. I'm not joking. The passive-aggressive trope: "Runciman could write well, but [...]" is not merely quite popular among Runciman's detractors -- it's ubiquitous. (Apparently even they have grasped that they'd never be able to get away with claiming that he wrote poorly.) And unfortunately even many of Runciman's current fans, among whom I can see few giants, have picked up on this meme, and say things like "[...] but he could write very well." As if writing well were only for novelists, poets and playwrights and had no place in the work of historians. (It takes up little enough space in the works of Madden and Tyerman.) As if writing well were anything more or less than an indication that an historians knows what he or she is doing -- writing, namely. I read about a conference held around the turn of the millenium in Spain, ostensibly in Runciman's honor, where several participants complained of the alleged "narrowness" of Runciman's sources. Narrowness? Really? See, this is one of those demonstrations that God did not exist, because some little pissants spoke this way at a conference about Runciman and did not immediately vanish in flashes of lightning and puffs of black smoke. Narrowness? How many historians of the Crusades have given equal weight to both Latin and Greek Christians sources and Arabic and Turkish Muslim sources? How many of them have been able to read Mongolian, or Armenian, or Georgian? Let alone Latin and Greek and Arabic and Turkish and Mongolian and Armenian and Georgian and Hebrew and Syriac and Ethiopic and Russian and Bulgarian and Slavonic and Persian and Norse, plus an unusually broad variety of the contemporary European and Middle Eastern vernaculars, thus missing very little of importance in the secondary works? How many? Obviously: one. The same one who was reading and writing Latin and Greek at age six. There may never yet have been another human being on Earth who was less narrow in his learning than Professor the Honorable Sir James Cochran Stevenson Runciman. Madden and Tyerman together couldn't carry his mental jockstrap. Oh btw OMG I just found out that Madden, favorite of the National Review and the so-called "History Channel," Thomas F Madden, wrote the current Encyclopædia Britannica article on the Crusades. These are very good days for reactionary revisionist pseudo-historical apologist crap.

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