To the Editor: Who Are the Privileged Historians?
Fred M. Leventhal, March 2003
From the Letters to the Editor column of the March 2003 Perspectives
It might be better not to dignify Norman Cantor's intemperate outburst (in his letter to the editor in the February 2003 Perspectives) with a reply, but one should not let so many inaccurate assertions pass without comment.
To suggest that Edward Thompson, Christopher Hill, or Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie attained their reputations because of their economic advantages or that each wrote only one important book is ludicrous. Edward Thompson never taught at Birmingham, as Cantor claims, although his wife Dorothy, also a distinguished labor historian, did. Thompson taught for many years in adult education in Halifax, then for several years at the then new University of Warwick, and then intermittently at several American universities. Thompson's relationship with Warwick was not a happy one, but he trained a number of graduate students during his tenure. His singularly influential The Making of the English Working Class was neither his first book, nor his only important work. Christopher Hill has dozens of titles to his name, and one can only wonder which of them Cantor believes is the "only one very important book."
As for the notion that no American historian had as privileged a career as these three, one need only look at the roster of the Harvard history department in the generation of Samuel Eliot Morison and Archibald Cary Coolidge to show the absurdity of Cantor's claim.
—Fred M. Leventhal