Becoming a recognized authority in any field is an admirable achievement. Yet when professors pontificate on matters far beyond their expertise, the results can be risible. That's particularly true of academics whose track record in their own field leaves much to be desired.
Which brings us to Juan Cole, Exhibit A for professorial puffery and purple prose.
Breitbart has taken note of the University of Michigan Middle Eastern history professor's latest foray into a subject well beyond his competence: climate science. Never one for wise counsel when hysteria will do, Cole called on Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to resign in the wake of Hurricane Dorian because "his inaction on fossil fuels will literally sink Florida."
Moreover, Cole believes studying the Middle East qualifies him for informed comment on the underground liquid gold that made the region rich: oil and, now, natural gas. To boot, being above ground and partaking of the climate on a daily basis, he fancies himself a meteorologist extraordinaire, able to leap logic in a single blog post – a skill at which we'll concede he excels. And if that's not enough, since Florida will "literally sink," we must add geology to his conquests.
As for Breitbart, Cole wasted no time responding to its article by labeling the conservative publication "far, far rightwing reused toilet paper," a "brown shirt rag," and a "racist piece of excrement" that makes "fascist sh** up, riffing on Mein Kampf." One might suspect Cole is a bit fixated on the scatological (calling Freud), but at least the implements at hand are recyclable.
What any of this has to do with Middle East studies is anyone's guess, but to quote the eminent professor himself, "Historians belong in this debate, because our moment is world-historical, and only historians can set it in context."
Or, rather, knee-deep in context.