It's not about the 'ist'

February 16, 2007

With regard to June Purvis's letter (February 9), if she and her friends had not intervened to attack my article on interpretations of suffragette history even before it had been published, readers of BBC History would now be studying it and her rejoinder and making up their own minds. Instead, we have a very public row.

Historians are free to be feminists or socialists or any other "ist", but they have an overriding responsibility to accept some common disciplines. If they ignore easily established facts, or repeat interpretations that are visibly challenged by the evidence in order to pursue their own political agenda, they are no longer historians but propagandists, and their fitness to occupy academic posts must come into question. To take an extreme example, most of us would defend David Irving's right of expression but few would want him as professor of history.

The issue is not what I think of feminist historians, but who is using the full range of sources and interpreting them responsibly.

C. J. Bearman.
Chelmsford

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