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Diplomatic History Only Interesting If White Men in Charge

The NYT reports that traditional history is decreasing in importance at most universities. It says that while universities are giving decreasing importance to diplomatic or international history, they are giving increased importance to the history of things like women’s studies, race, and cultural issues. The ironic thing is that just as history is getting away from a “great man” focus of history that until recently focused on white men, because they were at the top of the heap, women and other races are becoming more important. In tandem with the drop in diplomatic history, the leading diplomats in the US have been Madeline Albright, Colin Powell, Condi Rice, and Hillary Clinton, none of them white men.

My own concern about this is that the loss of interest in diplomatic or international history is likely to result in a lack of the expertise needed to conduct diplomacy. My experience was that diplomacy really is directed by the man (or woman) at the top. As I move up in the State Department (not particularly high), I found that the higher I went, the more likely it was that senior people would take an interest in, and control over, the issues I was working on. In fact, often the issues would be decided by the White House, not just by the Secretary of State. Historians might resent that the system works this way, but denying that it does is likely to result in an unrealistic understanding of history.
I was just listening to Obama talk about health care, and he repeated a line I’ve heard before when people complain about all the things he is involved in, such as the auto industry, he said he would rather not be involved in these issues, because he already has so much on his plate, and then every issue he mentioned was a foreign policy issue — North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan.

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