by Zoe Strimpel
Monday, 19
December 2022
Campus Wars
11:49

Why did students complain about my history talk?

Apparently, I was guilty of affecting their mental well-being
by Zoe Strimpel
Credit: Getty

One of the signature aspects of the culture war is the weaponisation of history, particularly by the new, academically-aligned Left. Decolonisation now dominates thinking about university curricula, as well as hiring practice, while museums have embraced its agenda with open arms. 

One recent high profile example was the closure of the Wellcome’s Medicine Man exhibition because the curators felt there was too much of collector and founder Henry Wellcome, in it. In their eyes, the exhibition contained a selection of objects about medical history that was too white, “ableist” and cis-man focused. 


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Meanwhile, the ongoing return of Benin Bronzes from museums and, most enthusiastically of all, from Cambridge (116 are in the latest planned shipment back to Nigeria) involves an even more naked use of history as a grenade; most reports on the Bronzes’ return don’t even refer to the massacre of the British that preceded the looting, nor the fact that they belonged to slave-traders in the first place. 

In short, history is complicated, often (though not always) many-sided, and, in a war as bitter and prolonged as the one Western cultures are embroiled in over their cultural inheritance, it helps to actually know some.

But many students, including those committed to regimes of decolonisation, seem less interested in what actually happened in the past, or in historical concepts, than in questions of “well-being” in the present. I had my first taste of this strange dynamic recently at a Russell Group university where I was invited as a guest speaker on 20th century Britain.

A few days later, however, they wrote an email in horror at discovering that I was someone with a “documented history of hate”; I was, they had found, critical of union militants, and had written about the anti-Semitism of the Black Lives Matter movement. They also discovered that I, like most centrist liberals, had criticised trans ideology. They warned of the “significant consequences on the mental well-being and ability to learn” of having someone like me to teach. 

This seemed strange to me. Their well-being had surely been enhanced by seminars in which their teacher had been supportive and encouraging, offering practical ways for them to get good marks. They had passed a perfectly enjoyable hour and a half; they later admitted to the convenor that nobody had been offended, upset, or even bored (at least not visibly). 

The retrospective application of the threat to “mental well-being and ability to learn” was therefore odd, and it illustrates the familiar counterproductive logic of contemporary campus thinking. Students are now so well-versed in the language of indignation and offence, particularly in what is or is not acceptable about the past, that they risk missing out on the real pleasure of university: reading, learning, and thinking. These are a far better route to feeling good than a focus on “well-being” will ever be.

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Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

It makes me sick to my stomach when I read about the most privileged people in the history of the world complaining about emotional harm and blah blah blah. If these mean, shallow narcissists could see beyond their cloistered little lives, they might realize there’s still three billion people in this world suffering real harm and poverty.

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

When I say “American,” I mean, uncorrected by the main history of human suffering. (Bellow, Henderson the Rain King)

Bater Jan Jatah
Bater Jan Jatah
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The truth will always offend someone somewhere; we shouldn’t give them attention!
Freedom of speech, opinions is a key human right!
You have the right to state the truth, and they have the right not to like it, I have the right not to care as slavery injustice is a great part of history, I prefer to say black, white, yellow, red… etc. I have no slavery guilt because I was a slave, white or black it doesn’t matter a slave is a slave so to all these idiots read the world history. And stop capitalizing on the suffering of a previous generation of people. Be honest and respect the others for their differences.

Last edited 1 month ago by Bater Jan Jatah
Sophia Wallace dunlop
Sophia Wallace dunlop
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

That word again privilege ,who are you to decide what that means .. am I an Aristocrat yes did I have a sad childhood yes ,was I abused yes ,was I raped yes ..were you ? The human condition is varied ..my colonial great grandfather freed slaves ! There was white slavery too and there is rape in every country in the world ,wake up we should unite now ,we are at war with Russia ,don’t let the beast win !!

Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
1 month ago

History is not for the faint of heart or weak of mind

Last edited 1 month ago by Jürg Gassmann
Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 month ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

Excellent point: history has nasty gristly bits that all sides have to swallow in the end. Part of classical liberalism’s gift to humanity, I think, was the space to acknowledge and discuss that with a view to improving the lot of all.

That is, after all, what led the British government to almost bankrupt the exchequer gaining emancipation for British “owned” slaves, and finally do the right thing in policing abolition on the high seas. They acknowledged their guilt and so tried to make at least some amends. Imperfect, yes; late in the game, sure; but done nonetheless. In 2015, the UK taxpayers at last finished repaying the debt incurred.

As the US Restitution Study Group pointed out, that’s nothing that the African nations involved in the slave trade have come close to doing, though they attempt with alacrity to occupy the notional moral high ground in the matter. History, however, shows that such high ground is at best illusory, at worst a nursery for destructive, retributive grievances. It is, to paraphrase Dr M L King Jnr., a downwards spiral which denies dialogue. Archbishop Tutu, an inheritor of King’s rational, humanitarian views, also provides us with object lessons in dignified progress.

The expected retort from the Social Justice cadres re. History is of course along the lines of: “oh yeah, whose history?” (accompanied by a gurning smile, reminiscent of Rik Mayall’s “Young Ones” character). But that’s another discussion altogether…

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Parker
Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jürg Gassmann

. . . the slaughter bench on which the happiness of peoples is sacrificed . . .

stu clarke
stu clarke
1 month ago

Some Benin Bronzes should go to Llandudno Museum as they are partly made with Welsh copper obtained by the sale of slaves.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  stu clarke

The Restitution Study Group in the USA objects to their return to Africa as they were made from metal manillas which were given to African leaders in exchange for slaves, This group of African-Americans would prefer that they be on display for the descendants of slaves to view. In a letter printed on the History reclaimed web-site they say:
“Nigeria and the Kingdom of Benin have never apologized for enslaving our ancestors. They have no remorse and yet they claim to be the victims. It is true there was one Punitive Expedition in 1897, but it ended the sale and sacrifice of enslaved people who suffered 300 years of Punitive Expeditions at the hands of the Kingdom of Benin”
I you want to see the whole letter it can be found here:
https://historyreclaimed.co.uk/restitution-study-group/
It makes interesting reading, as does all of the History Reclaimed site. If you’ve never visited the site it is worth your time; nothing is behind a paywall (but they are open to donations).

Last edited 1 month ago by Linda Hutchinson
Richard Parker
Richard Parker
1 month ago

Thanks to both Linda and Stu for raising points of which I’d been ignorant; I look forward to exploring the History Reclaimed site as well.
Patient correction of the many omissions, elisions and obfuscations by SJWs is the only way forward. Of course they’ll continue to firehose outright lies and partial truths, but at least we can build a corpus of evidence to show them for the grifters and frauds they are.

Linda Hutchinson
Linda Hutchinson
1 month ago
Reply to  stu clarke

deleted by poster
 

Last edited 1 month ago by Linda Hutchinson
kevin ward
kevin ward
1 month ago

A little off the main topic but rather than use “cis-…” one should use “normal” or “natural” when describing someone’s sex and then only add it for absolutely essential clarification.

Rob N
Rob N
1 month ago
Reply to  kevin ward

Sort of. Just don’t play their games at all. Reserve the word ‘man’ for men and ‘woman’ for women. Those other trans people should be gender dysphoric men (ie men who wish they were women) etc.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago
Reply to  Rob N

I call them “transvestites”.

Will Will
Will Will
1 month ago

The most terrifying thing about my history degree was the length of the reading list we were given after taking our prelim exams.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 month ago

Was it you they were really complaining about, Zoe, or the history?

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago

Being disagreed with.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Both I suspect – Zoe is well known for challenging various cultural issues, particularly antisemitism, and the left hate Jews on principle.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

This is nonsense. People on the Left don’t “hate Jews on principle.”
Period.

Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  Romi Elnagar

The existence of the Jews is problematic for leftist ideology which attributes the failure of some groups to succeed in society to either some kind of ism or phobia. The Jews have in general succeeded despite extreme persecution and prejudice. They are a living, breathing counter example to leftist ideology.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
1 month ago

Thanks Aphrodite.
And the Jews as a target for the left are now being replaced by Asian immigrants for the same reasons of achieving great success despite disadvantages. The left hate this, which is why they support discrimination against Asian students entry to American universities. But I expect Romi will find a reason to support that discrimination too.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Left%27s_Jewish_Problem
https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2021/10/27/antisemitism-left-rising/

Last edited 1 month ago by Ian Stewart
Aphrodite Rises
Aphrodite Rises
1 month ago
Reply to  Ian Stewart

Just another case of kill/silence the messenger because the message is too dangerous to become public knowledge.

Last edited 1 month ago by Aphrodite Rises
Jim R
Jim R
1 month ago

Indeed. Its the ultimate rebuttal to leftist ideology: inequality naturally corrects itself because adversity makes us stronger. And hence when we coddle the next generation or a targeted set of ‘victims’, we only set them up for failure.

Warren Trees
Warren Trees
1 month ago

And were enslaved themselves for generations.

Richard Craven
Richard Craven
1 month ago

This is why I decided not to return to university for a postgrad.

Ishka bibble
Ishka bibble
1 month ago

Ya know, what’s really crazy about this is that ALL of these protesters are white people! Zero “minorities;” i.e. blacks, Asians and The indigenous People. What’s up with that? Don’t these little idiot protesters realize how they’re screwing with every aspect of this country’s education system? Oh, wait, the education system in the U.S. is messed up, almost beyond repair already, thanks to the um genius academic leaders kowtowing to Communist corruption.

julian Le Vay
julian Le Vay
1 month ago

Excellent article in the Atlantic on the rather messy ethics as to who takes control of Benin bronzes once back ‘home’

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

Was the email pre or post lecture. It is not clear to me from the text.

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Why the downvotes???

Stephen Follows
Stephen Follows
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

‘A few days later, however’

Maybe that?

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

A few days later from the appointment or the talk? This is what I wasn’t sure about. From the context it sounds like it is indeed before.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 month ago
Reply to  Arkadian X

Agree, it reads a little vague. Initially I assumed she had been ‘de-platformed’ in advance. But the following suggests the concerned email was sent after the talk:
“They had passed a perfectly enjoyable hour and a half; they later admitted to the convenor that nobody had been offended, upset, or even bored (at least not visibly).”
Here’s hoping I get a few downvotes for clarifying 🙂

Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

Thanks. I started scanning the article up the way and not in the other direction. 😀

harry storm
harry storm
1 month ago
Reply to  Roger Inkpen

It took them a few days to realize how unsafe they felt in her class.

Sophia Wallace dunlop
Sophia Wallace dunlop
1 month ago

I have the same problem history in hindsight is daft and I love history ,infact I don’t like much modern I too am centrist right ..the woke brigade are crackers ..im a painter ,art historian ..in my view without it we are nothing ,a bit like north career ..imagine a world without I can’t!!

David Pogge
David Pogge
1 month ago

When are we going to stop taking these claims of “harm” seriously? When is a university administration going to insist upon the obvious difference between not liking something and being harmed by it, or the irrefutable difference between being exposed to ideas or words and real violence? As long as we allow this distortion of language to continue we are unable to confront these blatant efforts to silence discussion and impose ideological conformity – which are fundamentally antagonistic to education, scholarship, or a functioning democracy.

Judy Johnson
Judy Johnson
1 month ago

Taking offence where none is intended is a choice. Some ignorant remarks can be offensive but perhaps we should feel sympathy for the people foolish enough to think whatever it is they are saying.

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson
1 month ago

Their loss.

Romi Elnagar
Romi Elnagar
1 month ago

I notice that ALL the students protesting here are white, and most are [apparently] male. Is that also true of all the students who complained about Prof. Strimpel?

Jamie B
Jamie B
1 month ago
Reply to  Romi Elnagar

All? What picture are you looking at? The picture above shows 7 students, at least 3 of whom appear to be female.

Roger Inkpen
Roger Inkpen
1 month ago
Reply to  Jamie B

How dare you assume they identify as female. Who knows – those 3 might identify as male, and a couple of the others identify as female, with a one gender fluid and the other ‘QI+’ – whatever that means.