Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

A (by Dr. L): There is a great deal of debate on this issue. Up until the mid-20th century, the accepted answer was ‘one’: and this Whiggish narrative underpinned a number of works that celebrated electrification and the march of progress in light-bulb changing. Beginning in the 1960s, however, social historians increasingly rejected the ‘Great Man’ school and produced revisionist narratives that stressed the contributions of research assistants and custodial staff. This new consensus was challenged, in turn, by women’s historians, who criticized the social interpretation for marginalizing women, and who argued that light bulbs are actually changed by department secretaries. Since the 1980s, however, postmodernist scholars have deconstructed what they characterize as a repressive hegemonic discourse of light-bulb changing, with its implicit binary opposition between ‘light’ and ‘darkness,’ and its phallogocentric privileging of the bulb over the socket, which they see as colonialist, sexist, and racist. Finally, a new generation of neo-conservative historians have concluded that the light never needed changing in the first place, and have praised political leaders like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher for bringing back the old bulb. Clearly, much additional research remains to be done.


I found this on joke on another blog: “Toddlers and Scholars.” and then from a Google search found that this quip has made circuits through blogs.  The original author appears to be David Leeson of Laurentian University (a university in Ontario, Canada).

I wrote Dr. Leeson the following email:

Dear Dr. Leeson,

I awoke this morning to my computer and was drawn into my log of Twitter. (I can’t believed I started this email talking about reading Twitter.)

In that Twitter pit filled with short links to pieces of wisdom (and sometimes, not??) I found an intelligent joke: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?  But, it was much more than a joke.  I am now energized for my day with history students.  Hopefully, I can transfer that same feeling of humor, helping them smile at humans moving through time.

I did a bit of a Google search and it looks like you are the author of this piece.  Is that true?  I hope so because I have given you credit in my modest blog @https://fitzmahan.wordpress.com/.

Thank you.

Maureen Fitzmahan

International School of Estonia

Tallinn, Estonia


One response to “Q: How many historians does it take to change a light bulb?

  1. You might also enjoy the other historian jokes we collected at http://hnn.us/node/1690

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