As the world gradually falls apart in the face of one crisis after another and the whole edifice of our very existence appears to be teetering on the brink of falling over a precipice, there’s nothing like a spat between academics to warm the cockles of one’s heart. At least one part of our society is carrying on regardless. Odium academicum is thriving.
In the Daily Sceptic yesterday, Richard Eldred covered the story about the scholar – Dr. Jenny Bulstrode – who claims that Britain didn’t abolish slavery and who’s been rubbished by academic detractors.
Dr. Bulstrode has form in this area. Earlier this year, she was criticised for claiming that the inventor Henry Cort had stolen his process for turning scrap iron into high-quality wrought iron from Jamaican slaves. The story was covered by the Telegraph in September:
Oxbridge dons have accused a rival scholar of “undermining the history of Britain” with “absolutely no evidence” in a row over claims that a key figure of the Industrial Revolution stole his idea from Jamaican slaves.
A leading academic journal has now launched a formal investigation after a history lecturer at University College London, Dr Jenny Bulstrode, claimed that Henry Cort, who is widely credited for inventing a groundbreaking new iron-making process in 1784, was not, in fact, responsible for the innovation.
Her paper, published in the prestigious journal History and Technology, said that his method for processing scrap iron into high-quality wrought iron was “theft…from Black metallurgists in Jamaica,” and his patent was “false mirrors for imperial eyes to picture themselves as they built their institutional lies”.
Research by other scholars concluded the claim was absurd:
Prof. Lawrence Goldman, a leading historian at the University of Oxford, said the lecturer “constructed a story that is literally too good to be true… almost fairy tale’.
“It’s serious, and evidence of how reason and facts are being suspended in the search for ever more ways to undermine the history of Britain and its empire,” he told the Telegraph.
“We must give Jenny Bulstrode every chance to explain herself. We must also expect University College London, where she teaches, to investigate what has gone on, as, on the face of it, this is a serious infringement of academic conventions and the pursuit of historical truth,” he said.
Lawrence Goldman’s killer comment was:
Prof. Goldman said that he thought the academic was “a victim of the system” which “encourages young researchers to choose certain types of subject, and, in order to stand out in the crowd, to reach surprising or even sensational conclusions, irrespective of the evidence”, with “any research that is in tune with academic fashion and the ‘zeitgeist’… likely to be published and celebrated”.
The Telegraph says History and Technology had to publish a correction to Dr. Bulstrode’s original article. But in fact the publisher Taylor and Francis has defended her original piece and supported its findings about Cort in a recent editorial (November 14th 2023) in which it urges historians to confront “the anti-Blackness of EuroAmerican intellectual traditions”.
The scene has been set for metaphorical daggers drawn. The stuff of Midsomer Murders or the case of the Don with the Candlestick in the Library.
The real issue here is what’s being peddled in universities by scholars of whatever ilk to credulous students who are delivered to universities from schools where historical understanding or even basic general historical knowledge has been increasingly expunged from the curriculum.
Stop Press: In the latest episode of Dr. Who, which last week saw the Doctor being scolded by his new trans assistant for not asking an alien what its preferred gender pronouns are, a black actor has been cast as Sir Isaac Newton. To cap it all, the Doctor is now gay and, of course, immediately developed a crush on Sir Isaac. The Standard has more.