Letters to the Editor

Advantaged to Be a Historian?

Norman F. Cantor, February 2003

Lynn Hunt worries (in the December 2002 issue) whether any American historian of her generation "would be able to pretend to the distinction of an Edward Thompson, a Christopher Hill, or an Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie." The three Europeans she mentions each wrote only one very important book. Furthermore, they each had advantages that are virtually absent from the careers of American historians. Thompson came from a wealthy family and was for most of his career a private scholar. He taught at Birmingham for a few years after his important book was published, disliked teaching, and quit. Hill was elected a fellow of Balliol College in his twenties, and published nothing of significance for the next 15 years. He would not have gotten tenure in any major U.S. university. As his name implies, Ladurie came from an old and wealthy French family. I cannot remember any American historian having a privileged career like these three.

—Norman F. Cantor
New York University (emeritus)