Preaching to the QuireA debate has been raging recently on the h-net discussion h-west regarding the Western History Association and its practices. Given that I'm not a member of the WHA, and haven't seen the events which have stirred up the controversy I'll refrain from commenting on it. But one response to a particular issue, by Patricia Nelson Limerick caught my attention as being especially good. The issue is the WHA's relation to the general public, and various schemes for integration many of which seem to focus primarily around trying to bring in audiences likely to agree with the politics of the proponents.
Regarding dealing with the public at large Limerick writes:
You do have another option [besides speaking to audiences likely to frustrate you]. You can only speak to public audiences that already agree with you. This does have the advantage of enhanced comfort, but boredom and pointlessness rise right along with the comfort.
Sometimes we are too eager to seek out audiences of like minded individuals rather than engage in debate with our opponents. I agree with Limerick that such an attitude is self-defeating. Sending out the message to all those who already agree doesn't really send out any message at all.
If the WHA is interested in being relevant to a wider audience, that audience is going to need to include not only critics from the left, but those likely to disagree with historians from the right.