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Academic Guidance Academic Guidance - Academic guidance for those pursuing a college degree... what college? Grad school? PhD help?


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Old August 30th, 2016, 02:46 PM   #1
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Is there anything left to study in history?


This question goes to historians from a candidate historian. It seems that there is nothing/no field left worth too much to study in this field except for some tiny details. Pretty much everything has been studied and written by others. I can’t find a reason to pursue being historian.

Last edited by Turklander; August 30th, 2016 at 02:49 PM.
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Old August 30th, 2016, 03:12 PM   #2

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I think there is. Many aspects of history -regions, times and particular occurrences have not been explored fully, or at all. I would love to learn more about all the obscure aspects of human history. I always look for threads here that are such.
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Old August 30th, 2016, 06:05 PM   #3

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Turklander View Post
This question goes to historians from a candidate historian. It seems that there is nothing/no field left worth too much to study in this field except for some tiny details. Pretty much everything has been studied and written by others. I canít find a reason to pursue being historian.
A good historian I would say requires a vivid, fertile imagination as s/he is engaged in the task of re-imagining another world; its colours, textures, smells, sounds - its prevailing zeitgeist. Itis seldom good enough to immerse oneself merely in the 'primary' or 'secondary literature', which, depending on topic (eg: Napoleonic wars) could run, in the first instance, to millions of scattered source documents & in the latter, to several thousand printed volumes and therefore be beyond the scope of any individual's lifetime - let alone the measly 3-5 years required of a typical doctorate.

Instead, you need to develop an instinctive grasp for the primary motor agencies which compelled "change" (extensive meditation helps!) - to focus in on these elements & grind them down as with a powerful pestle till the scattered motes are amenable to the investigative microscope. Having separated out the subject 'mote' parts, chosen by YOU and no-one else as the most substantive "issues", threading them together then requires something of a literary artistry as the finished product, irrespective of its intrinsic interest to a potential reader, must awake in them also, something of the passion which compelled you to dig so deep in the first place and attempt toget to the bottom of the phenomenon in question - as no topic, if properly understood, can ever be finally exhausted. Larger, more interesting questions, will always impinge our attention, threatening ultimately to subsume us unless we pull away.

We all look at the world with a vantage point uniquely our own, so it follows that our "historian's gaze" should impart a wholly new reality when driven to uncover (or unveil rather) a specific moment in time - you must be master of biography; and therefore the science of human motivation (psychology, psychoanalysis etc.), of cosmology; broadly speaking, where did people of this time place themselves in the 'grand scheme of things', of anthropology; cultural clashes, group-based prejudices, misunderstandings, misconceptions, ethnocentric world-views are the very stuff of history; of laws; of institutions; of social mores; of class dynamics; of economics; of letters; of religion; of hopes; of dreams; synchronic, diachronic, of every bloomin' broodin broomin thing ... you must put it all in there, and not just for one ideal reader, but for all readers & for all times ... that is the task of writing history ~ and, not surprisingly, no-one has ever come close to achieving this impossible feat, though some are palpably more proficient at approximating the nth gate of perfection than others - see here for my money Lecky, Macauley, Gibbon, E.P. Thomson, Brailsford; all of whom blazed a trail and left their peers agog as though a new universe of interpretation were thrust upon them, bored as they hadn't the ability or imagination to see what was left to be unveiled.
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Old August 30th, 2016, 06:10 PM   #4

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Originally Posted by Turklander View Post
This question goes to historians from a candidate historian. It seems that there is nothing/no field left worth too much to study in this field except for some tiny details. Pretty much everything has been studied and written by others. I canít find a reason to pursue being historian.
I don't quite understand. Do you want to be talked into or talked out of...?
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Old August 30th, 2016, 06:47 PM   #5

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Turklander strikes me as a person with serious ambition - if at first glance all of history has been covered to exhaustion why on earth roll up the sleeves to pick apples from a bare tree. Its fruit has been exhausted has it not? Solution: dig it all up, root and branch and plant a new orchard - Transmogrify the field altogether. Throw in a water feature, a few perpetual rainbows with a grinning leprechaun at the base of each, a couple of unicorns, piped music to make the grass grow psychedelic green purple & orange, cavorting Maenads, endless tea & crumpet, an astronomer's lab, fluffy pillows ... yada, yada
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Old August 30th, 2016, 06:52 PM   #6

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This was something which really concerned me when I first started studying history. I realized early on that I wouldn't be a Herodotus or a Gibbon, and that bothered me for a while.

Where I found joy in history was in finding ways to sink into the past. I don't worry so much now about whether something has been covered in depth or not - I simply do the best I can to live there for a while in my mind. For me, it's kind of like traveling, except the destinations are much more exotic than any modern ones and it saves a lot on airfare.
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Old August 30th, 2016, 07:41 PM   #7

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Originally Posted by Pacific_Victory View Post
This was something which really concerned me when I first started studying history. I realized early on that I wouldn't be a Herodotus or a Gibbon, and that bothered me for a while.

Where I found joy in history was in finding ways to sink into the past. I don't worry so much now about whether something has been covered in depth or not - I simply do the best I can to live there for a while in my mind. For me, it's kind of like traveling, except the destinations are much more exotic than any modern ones and it saves a lot on airfare.
That's the way I like to roll too Pacific - as I don't "do" history for a living my normal mode is to get lost in a book purely out of pleasure. Anything at times, to wrest myself from the wretched hum-drum of the unthinking present. A half hour's absorption in what Baudrillard called the 'society of the spectacle' via Sky, CNN or Fox usually has me clambering up the bookcase looking for a suitable exit point - usually a period 'thick with meaning' - for myself, anything, anywhere between 1780 and 1850; the Age of Revolutions, the Age of Hope and Expectation, whatever you want to call it - but this was for me the noblest of ages, full of earnest explorers, improvers, achievers, doers & dreamers; so much dignity & self-possession ~ before the inevitable rot set in; Darwin's horrific gauntlet & our petrified response.
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Old August 30th, 2016, 11:20 PM   #8
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It is kind of hard to imagine for me how someone would come to the conclusion that everything has been studied, already. There are so many white spots in our knowledge of history that it resembles a white blanket more than a rainbow color one, so to speak. Of course, a fundamental part of being a historian is to identify one of those white spots worthy of investigation, which is difficult for a variety of reasons. But thinking of hitherto untapped archival resources, alone, there is so much material out there crying out to the historian that every one who seriously researches a topic should be able to find a niche for her-/himself.
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Old August 31st, 2016, 05:48 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Gile na Gile View Post
Turklander strikes me as a person with serious ambition - if at first glance all of history has been covered to exhaustion why on earth roll up the sleeves to pick apples from a bare tree. Its fruit has been exhausted has it not? Solution: dig it all up, root and branch and plant a new orchard - Transmogrify the field altogether. Throw in a water feature, a few perpetual rainbows with a grinning leprechaun at the base of each, a couple of unicorns, piped music to make the grass grow psychedelic green purple & orange, cavorting Maenads, endless tea & crumpet, an astronomer's lab, fluffy pillows ... yada, yada
Thank you for your life coach-like support and motivation Gile na Gile, but can you be more spesific and plain about what should to do, as a person (I'm assuming) who is familiar to the historian community?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pacific_Victory View Post
This was something which really concerned me when I first started studying history. I realized early on that I wouldn't be a Herodotus or a Gibbon, and that bothered me for a while.

Where I found joy in history was in finding ways to sink into the past. I don't worry so much now about whether something has been covered in depth or not - I simply do the best I can to live there for a while in my mind. For me, it's kind of like traveling, except the destinations are much more exotic than any modern ones and it saves a lot on airfare.
We are exactly on the same spot then. I chose history because of the nostalgia and mystery it gaves me. I like it, however we are not supposed to choose history as a field to work just because reading and making researches about history make us happy. We are supposed to be historians, I'd like to explore history, study and write down something new or at least something not entirely known. How did you find motivation?

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Originally Posted by Entreri View Post
It is kind of hard to imagine for me how someone would come to the conclusion that everything has been studied, already. There are so many white spots in our knowledge of history that it resembles a white blanket more than a rainbow color one, so to speak. Of course, a fundamental part of being a historian is to identify one of those white spots worthy of investigation, which is difficult for a variety of reasons. But thinking of hitherto untapped archival resources, alone, there is so much material out there crying out to the historian that every one who seriously researches a topic should be able to find a niche for her-/himself.
I didn't exactly say "everything" and pointed out those "tiny details" as you prefer to mention them "white spots". I'll give you an example of one of those "white spots": For instance, some historians in my country newly discovered that there are also some non Turkish soldiers used by the early Turcoman Beyliks in Balkan raids, as they were all assumed to be Turcomans. I'm not saying it's unimportant, of course it is matter but that's the all you can get by "identifying white spots" most of the times. History is not a new field and lots of people have been worked and still working on this field. All of us have started to this field hoping to make some difference in the future... I don't know about you but this reality actually kills my motivation. It's like digging up a whole mountain to find a piece of gold.

Last edited by Turklander; August 31st, 2016 at 06:00 AM.
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Old August 31st, 2016, 05:56 AM   #10

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When a person is young, there is a "first time" for everything. Can your remember figuring out why people blinked, or the first time you tasted ice cream? We anticipated going to school with the big kids, and dutifully learned our ABCs. The first time you went to the sea shore with all its sand and screaming gulls, and the waves just keep rolling in, endlessly. Touched fire and felt pain. None of these things, or thousands of other examples like them, had been seen and/or felt before by almost every human who ever lived. However for us individually, each new experience was a personal discovery.

History is immense, and it is flat out impossible for anyone to fully apprehend. Probably the OP grew, attended a Western School where History was taught, and now believes that he/she must choose an Academic discipline that will lead to a long career.

OP:

1. Even if you've had units covering human history around the world, you haven't scratched the surface. High School history is notorious for its failings, and given the short study period, only a very sparse outline is provided, even for something as familiar as history of the U.S. You should recognize that your knowledge is, and probably always will be very limited and full of huge gaps. Terra Incognito.

2. The goal of studying History is not to make some stunning discovery that has completely escaped notice of many generations of scholars, but to fill in the blanks of your own ignorance. Some travel to see what lies on the other side of the mountain, knowing already the names of those towns and their weird inhabitants. Historians study for the same reasons. I may think to myself, what a mind I have and an understanding of event "A". The amateur may be satisfied enough to toss the book on a table and to out for a party. A historian will read through the night discovering new stuff on a regular basis. While in school, study generally generates good grades, and that is an ego booster for historians, as profits are to entrepreneurs. After a long life devoted to the study of perhaps a single event that took a day out of all history, we will still find new things to discover in the writings of our colleagues, and don't we wish we had gotten into print earlier.

3. Not everyone is fit to be a scholar, and if you want to live a life of luxury and comfort, you might want to think of something else as a career. Learn to install and fix air-conditioners, or busted pipes. Study the Law, Mathematics or Medicine if those fields are your passion, and a professional career might work for you. Start your own business, or be a bum. We live in a broad world where opportunities are everywhere, even when success is not. Take up something useful for the world, your community, and yourself, and you can hardly go wrong ... even in failure. Success and Failure are not zero-sum games, and to success does not mean that you won't fail tomorrow. Academic Life from the outside seems wonderful. Time filled with reading new stuff, conversing with people like ourselves, and teaching the young. Actually, its a tough life that pays far below what I now pay my groundsman. You spend heavily to get the Doctorate, and then years of scholastic slavery hoping for tenure, some relief and Graduate Assistants to do the dirty work. Try spending a few months in front of an old Microfilm projector going through several decades of a newpaper out of print for a hundred years looking for the proverbial needle. Its how one learns to do research.

4. In seeing History as "Pretty much everything has been studied and written by others". You have drawn a premature conclusion, and now interpret the field through tinted glasses. Anything you might learn in careful study will be regarded as an "unimportant" detail. It might, or might not be, and we can't know one way or the other until we know everything. We can't know everything, and so by adopting a POV that is exclusionary, we show our current unfitness for the discipline. If you want to study History, you must keep an open mind, an aloof objectivity always awaiting, seeking further clarity.

5. Given a zillion dollars, a beautiful actress who gives up fame to run her delicate fingers through your hair, a new sports car every six months, a mansion in every nation ready for your occasional visit, and instant access to the President of the United States ... how would you spend your time? Are you a Hedonist, an Epicure, or a Stoic? Do you regard humanity as basically selfish and evil, or basically good and virtuous? What do you believe is the point of your personal existence? Can Mankind ever fully escape his past, or are we going to be driven by those motives and urges that have existed for maybe a million years? What is good and bad, but a relative valuation, or is there some universal standard(s) of the duality? How can you begin to think, without a solid understanding and knowledge base of all those generations leading up to this fleeting moment in time.

6. If you decide to join those who have a passionate relationship with our common past, then welcome. If you have another, a more important star to guide you, then pop a message into a bottle once in awhile for those of us marooned in our libraries. Hope to see you here a lot, and to follow your career in History.
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