Letters to the Editor

The Message in the Medium

James W. Loewen, November 2006

To the Editor:

Jerry Muller is right: historians (and most other academics) write poorly ("Style Is Not a Luxury Option: Reflections on the Prose of the Profs," Perspectives, March 2006). He provided vivid proof by admonishing us to avoid passive constructions with this sentence: "[T]he injunction to 'Use the active voice' had been massively transgressed." He goes right on, "The text had been insufficiently pruned." Nor has Muller confined his writing problems to that passage. After a fine first sentence, he chooses for his next seven main verbs variants of the weakest verb in the language, "is." Passive constructions then abound throughout his short essay. Nevertheless, he’s right! Let’s all shape up! History should be fun to read, even when its topic is complex and deplorable.

—James W. Loewen,
Visiting Professor
The Catholic University of America