Something to Laugh About

Laughing at experts is nothing new. Kate Davison explores our long history of puncturing the powerful with satire and humour – to keep them in line and just for the fun of it.  

Read the original piece  at historytoday.com/fta
Read the original piece at historytoday.com/fta

Perhaps it is the hours spent in archives or sipping tea at conferences, but there can be few who value old jokes as much as historians do. The first efforts to recover the humour of the past were made in the 1970s with the early stirrings of cultural history and, since then, it has become a well-trodden path to explore past mentalities. Laughter is a fundamental human characteristic – the very thing that separates us from animals, if you follow Aristotle – but the subjects we see fit to laugh at change over time. The theory is simple: if you can ‘get’ the jokes of the past, you can understand the interests and sensibilities of the people who inhabited it.

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