As some of you may know, I teach a (not-history-related) summer course, and yesterday I was at a meeting for it. One of the questions that came up was the age-old one of what to do when a student asks you a question you don’t know the answer to.
This actually doesn’t bug me too much, and hasn’t for a while. I was thinking about it, and I suspect that it’s for two reasons. The first is that I’ve cultivated a certain attitude of erudition, which seems to have been successful enough that I can just get away with not knowing stuff.
The second is that I’m pretty up-front about it: a lot of the time I’ll say, I dunno, “there was a lot of public resistance to anaesthesia until Queen Victoria publicly endorsed it in eighteen fifty … threeeee?” (It is 1853; I looked it up. But I wasn’t sure of it at the time.) And then we can look it up together. Hopefully, once you’re doing that, students can see the process as a joint search for knowledge, etc., etc.
It’s a good thing, too, because, history guy or not, I am absolutely terrible at remembering most dates.