I just heard Mat Staver, the dean of Liberty Law School, on David Barton’s show Wallbuilder’s Live. Staver was on the show to defend Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies. Early in the show he confirmed that Liberty University Law School does indeed use David Barton’s books in their curriculum. (As far as I know, Liberty Law School is the only school that uses Barton’s stuff. I have yet to hear about a Christian college history department that uses Barton’s book and Staver’s remarks have not changed that).
There was little that surprised me about Staver’s interview with Wallbuilder’s Live host Rick Green, but I was struck by some of the logical fallacies in this law professor’s argument:
Fallacy #1: Warren Throckmorton has a small following so he must be wrong. (Barton uses this as well, claiming that Throckmorton should be discredited because he does not have a lot of Facebook “likes.”)
Fallacy #2: Staver claims that Barton knows more about early American history than anyone in the country and as a result anyone who tries to debate him will ultimately “eat crow.” I wonder how Staver knows this? Does he know all of the early American historians in the country?
Fallacy #3: Staver implies that Warren Throckmorton’s views on homosexuality have a lot to do with why he is wrong in his critique of Barton.
Fallacy #4: Warren Throckmorton is a psychologist. He is not a historian. As a result, he has no authority to fact-check Barton’s work.
This last point is an interesting one because it is based on the false premise that a good historian is someone who can quote from original documents and use their memory to recall facts. While historians should certainly have some capacity to do these things, they are not the kinds of skills that define a particular person as a “historian.”
Throckmorton is not a historian. He is a fact-checker–and a pretty darn good one. Barton is not a historian–he is a political activist with a good grasp of historical facts that he uses for the sole purpose of promoting his political agenda. Throckmorton’s status as a psychologist (or anything else for that matter) should have little to do with whether or not he is able to fact-check Barton’s book.
Historians, as any reader of this blog will know, interpret the facts. They take the facts of the past and weave them into a compelling narrative. They situate those facts in context. They understand the complexity of human events (something that is difficult to do when you are driven by a political agenda and are just looking at one side of a particular issue). They show how events build off of each other. They chronicle change over time.
Fact-checkers are not historians and one does not have to be a historian to check facts.