Rich Historian Connects Titanic Tragedy to Modern Day Class Warfare

April 15 will mark the 100th anniversary of the sinking of RMS Titanic, that giant, gilded, floating city that struck an iceberg and rapidly sank, taking with it more than 1,500 lives.

British historian Simon Schama wrote about that “Voyage of the Damned” for Newsweek’s April 8 edition. The article about “all walks of life” above Titanic is certainly worth the read, especially for those fascinated by the ship, its passengers and that fateful night in the North Atlantic when the unsinkable ship, in fact, sank. But in the final paragraph Schama strangely went out of the way to connect that century-old catastrophe to the 2008 financial crisis.

Schama melodramatically invoked class warfare saying, “Of course, the supposedly unsinkable liner that is global capitalism recently hit an iceberg, and its name was Lehman Brothers. And lo, in the twinkling of an eye there was much screaming, and the fanciest and most sumptuous vessel looked as though it would slide right into the deep.”

But Schama didn’t stop there. He lumped himself in with “steerage” saying: “Now, too, it is steerage that gets the short end of the stick, just as it did in 1912 … [A]s we sail on into the dark ocean of the future where who knows what perils lurk in the darkness, is it too much to ask that there be at least enough bloody lifeboats for everyone -- for us in third class as well as the ladies and gents living it up in the state rooms?”

Schama is no “third class” passenger of the global economy. The historian made history and headlines in 2002 when HarperCollins and BBC inked a deal worth 3 million British pounds. The HarperCollins portion was “thought to be the single biggest advance every paid for history titles,” according to The Telegraph (UK). The additional million was paid by the BBC.

The UK-born historian, who has said he feels “devoted to America”, has been a New York magazine critic and a professor at Columbia University (he previously taught at Oxford, Cambridge and Harvard). Newsweek editor Tina Brown recruited Schama to write for the magazine, and The Daily Beast in May 2011, according to The Wall Street Journal.


Correction: This post originally dated the sinking of the Titanic incorrectly. The Titanic struck an iceberg the night of April 14 and sunk in the middle of the night (technically on April 15).

Economy Newsweek Daily Beast Simon Schama
Julia A. Seymour's picture