Among the many things we are investigating in our project on “Race, Racism, and the Liberal Arts” are the stories that scholars tell about the history of their respective disciplines and of the academic institutions those disciplines inhabit. This passage from Robert Vitalis’s White World Order, Black Power Politics: The Birth of American International Relations (Cornell, 2015) makes an argument about how this plays out in International Relations and supplies a more general case for why inquiries into disciplinary history are important:
The problem, we now know in large part thanks to historians and sociologists of science, is that scholars reliably produce unreliable accounts of the past of their own fields. International relations is no exception. American schoolchildren learn the story of the midnight ride of Paul Revere together with any number of other myths about “the nation’s origins, achievements, and destiny.” Such myths function to produce a common consciousness and obscure the existence of hierarchy. The practitioner histories of international relations in the United States do roughly the same thing to the same end through the socialization of graduate students in the rituals of PhD programs and through lecture courses that pass on the discipline’s invented traditions and escape from knowledge to generations of undergraduates who will become public intellectuals, politicians, and policymakers.