The Paragraph :

Having repudiated the basic commitments to nationalism and the ideal of scholarly detachment that had always sustained historical writing in the United States, professional historians found themselves—not surprisingly, one might add—cut off from their cultural environment. That this situation is markedly different from the formative period of historical scholarship can be seen in centennial numbers of the American Historical Review, the most recent expression of the profession‘s reflective tendency, which have explored the nature of historical thinking at the time of the association‘s founding a century ago.

Above paragraph is the part of this full version

It is very hard to understand as I read it like 4-5 times and still unable to paraphrase it with my own words.Can anyone help me out with more layman interpretation?


Ok so I have had difficulty in understanding the bold part, especially make right inference out of phrases like "basic commitment to nationalism", "cut off from culture","scholarly detachment" etc.

But i feel it should not be declared as off topic. This is a Tough Paragraph even for a Native English Person. Mapping scholarly detachment with impartiality, cut off from their cultural environment (this was ambiguous to me) to not being true Americans (it can also mean nobody reads what they write anymore), is not an easy deduction to make (especially when you have exam-limited time to do that!). I am thankful to deadrats for clarifying the role of the paragraph to me.

Non-bold part immediately make sense ones you understood the bold part with right mappings.

closed as off-topic by sumelic, anongoodnurse, user140086, ab2, tchrist May 9 '16 at 13:05

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  • 1
    This paragraph has long sentences and uses a lot of formal words; it takes some degree of concentration and familiarity with the context (and maybe even a dictionary) for an average native English speaker/reader to understand. This would be a much better question if you isolated a phrase or two that you just can't decipher. – anongoodnurse May 8 '16 at 20:54
  • Yeah, it's apparently a reading piece from MCAT, presumably used on the theory that if you can decipher that you can decipher a doctor's handwriting. – Hot Licks May 8 '16 at 21:54
  • @HotLicks - You're dating yourself. :) Very many doctors must use electronic medical records now, making handwriting almost obsolete. :-/ – anongoodnurse May 8 '16 at 22:16

The key to understanding the paragraph you quote appears later on in the source you cite. You'll find the author touting a book called Twentieth-Century American Historians, about which he says

It is unusual, moreover, to find in contemporary scholarship the open-mindedness to conservative points of view, and immunity to orthodox liberal assumptions that inform this volume [i.e.,Twentieth-Century American Historians].

This is a typical claim of the reactionary wing of US intelligentsia that supports right-wing US politicians: academics (here represented by the publishers of and the contributors to the journal American Historical Review) are closed to "conservative" points of view and unthinkingly adopt "liberal" points of view.

Now you can go back and interpret your paragraph, as the author highlights the "bad" liberal approach of the American Historical Review with the "good" conservative approach of Twentieth-Century American Historians:

Having repudiated the basic commitments to nationalism
They have abandoned patriotism.

and the ideal of scholarly detachment
They are no longer impartial.

historians found themselves ... cut off from their cultural environment
They are no longer true Americans.

this situation is markedly different from the formative period of historical scholarship
That's not how things used to be.

[as] can be seen in centennial numbers of the American Historical Review, the most recent expression of the profession‘s reflective tendency
You can tell by reading the numbers (i.e., the issues) of the journal AHR as it celebrates its centennial (i.e., the 100th anniversary of its publication) as the journal via its contributors "expresses a reflective tendency" (i.e., looks back at or reflects upon things).

[such things like] the nature of historical thinking at the time of the association‘s founding
How things used to be in studying and writing about history

  • I would interpret cut off from their cultural environment as nobody reads what historians write anymore. But maybe you're right—the paragraph is quite difficult to decipher. – Peter Shor May 8 '16 at 21:52
  • @deadrat I got the explanation.cheers! Adding to it and if I get you correctly, you mapped scholarly detachment to being partial(HOW?).Does that mean these liberal historians will denounce any historical work involving nationalistic elements since it conflicts with their philosophical orientation? – Ankur Patel May 9 '16 at 6:36
  • @AnkurPatel My formatting is misleading. The word repudiated goes with commitment to nationalism and scholarly detachment. So the paragraph maps scholarly detachment to impartiality, which (it is claimed) modern historians reject. I think the answer to your last question is no, the paragraph doesn't go that far. It says that (liberal) historians have themselves refused to embrace traditional nationalism, a traditional (and by implication a "good") point of view. – deadrat May 9 '16 at 7:09
  • Kindly look at this Question, this question is defying on what said about passage will not go that far. Is this question(and its answer) valid? (The question's answer is derived from the paragraph I posted here) – Ankur Patel May 9 '16 at 7:44
  • @AnkurPatel I don't think defying means what you think. The Question you link to is about what inference to draw, assuming the passage is correct. It's the most likely of the choices given. But it's not what the passage says directly, which was my interpretation of mean in your question "Does that mean...?" I'm sorry if I've confused you. – deadrat May 9 '16 at 8:11

This epitomizes a communications problem with many professions: they develop their own styles and language uses (often with profession-specific jargon) that, while clear to themselves, can be quite difficult for outsiders to understand. (In some professions there is a strong pushback against this; it may happen cyclically.) I interpret this paragraph to mean that professional historians today are different than they were in the past, particularly in how they view both nationalism and detachment negatively. Examples can be found in issues of American Historical Review celebrating 100 years of the association or journal (or both). The "cut off from their cultural environment" is not very clear to me, because presumably the profession itself is making this change in culture; perhaps it is meant in an historical context.

  • 1
    There's not that much jargon in this. Just very convoluted sentences strung together poorly to make a confusing paragraph. – Peter Shor May 8 '16 at 21:25
  • The commitment to nationalism can be seen at first commit. Cultural changes can give a new scope and quality. Growth in association or with journal (or) both can be obtained in any demographic. – user15266 May 8 '16 at 21:36

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