What is a Historian?

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,979
România
I also don't think it's entirely historians to blame for most academic works being boring. The publishing model in the Germano-Anglophone world needs to get some blame here. If the academic book is going to cost $200 and only a small number of libraries are going to buy it, why go to the trouble of making it readable or accessible? At least at this point, I write for my peers. I suspect a broader audience might be interested in some of what I have to say, but that'll have to wait until I have a more secure position in life.


It's not an argument. It's just what I thought about when I read that.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,979
România
On a serious note, I think this is very odd:
why go to the trouble of making it readable or accessible?
In regards to the question, the obvious answer is that you should do that to be read by more people. Books become pdfs and end up being available online for free. That's pretty much guaranteed to happen, especially when the book is expensive and might end up in "recommended reading" lists for uni.

The phrasing is far more interesting. You used "go to the trouble" when talking about "making it readable or accessible". In other words you, an academic with a PhD, aren't already well equipped with the necessary tools to make yourself easily readable and accessible. Do you not see this as a flaw in the system?

Also, usually, how many people read your work and how many times is it cited?

During the PhD years, there are plenty of things people learn that end up not being that useful for their careers, such as the things related to teaching for people who don't end up teaching at all. It don't think it would be impossible to have courses that teach people how to write in an engaging manner, while still being rigorous historians.
 
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Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,964
Blachernai
I don't have that PhD yet. Another year, I think. The main problem at this point (ie: grad student) is that if we are to publish at all, then it has to be in a serious, peer-reviewed journal. If I didn't know for a fact that the current academic environment would count it against me, I'd sign a contract with Osprey tomorrow and do a popular book as a side project. And if the day comes when I find secure academic employment, I have a book prospectus ready for them.

There are different levels of technical, academic writing. People in my current department have an excellent record of producing serious, readable books for a general audience, and more than a few of them have been read by Historum members. But they're also tenured faculty at a highly privileged institution and thus have opportunities (training, engagement, job security, time, research resources) that the rest of the academic precariat don't have. Those of us without that have to write the unreadable boring stuff to get into a position where we can actually engage with a wider audience.

That said, some academic writing of history has to be technical or nigh-unreadably theoretical to push the field ahead. The problem is that then those results don't usual filter back to general works, which is a shame. Someone had to write thirty page paper on medieval Greek conditional clauses. An article that I wrote recently goes on for half a dozen pages justifying why I'm talking about a particular type of late Roman ceramic. I need to explain this to my colleagues who might be aware of alternatives, but when I (hopefully!) use the results in a more general work, it'll be something along the lines of "We have these pots from shipwreck Z that carried oil and wine and had a rough capacity of X litres and here's why that's interesting...."
 

Willempie

Ad Honorem
Jul 2015
5,828
Netherlands
A historian is like a wife. Constantly nagging about things you supposedly did wrong years ago. For some reason they discuss it with others and your actions somehow are made worse.
Any counter argument you provide is slammed down by bringing up all kinds of other wrongdoings or you get bombarded by all kinds of nasty arguments.
 
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Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
6,764
Portugal
I don't have that PhD yet. Another year, I think. The main problem at this point (ie: grad student) is that if we are to publish at all, then it has to be in a serious, peer-reviewed journal. If I didn't know for a fact that the current academic environment would count it against me, I'd sign a contract with Osprey tomorrow and do a popular book as a side project. And if the day comes when I find secure academic employment, I have a book prospectus ready for them.

There are different levels of technical, academic writing. People in my current department have an excellent record of producing serious, readable books for a general audience, and more than a few of them have been read by Historum members. But they're also tenured faculty at a highly privileged institution and thus have opportunities (training, engagement, job security, time, research resources) that the rest of the academic precariat don't have. Those of us without that have to write the unreadable boring stuff to get into a position where we can actually engage with a wider audience.

That said, some academic writing of history has to be technical or nigh-unreadably theoretical to push the field ahead. The problem is that then those results don't usual filter back to general works, which is a shame. Someone had to write thirty page paper on medieval Greek conditional clauses. An article that I wrote recently goes on for half a dozen pages justifying why I'm talking about a particular type of late Roman ceramic. I need to explain this to my colleagues who might be aware of alternatives, but when I (hopefully!) use the results in a more general work, it'll be something along the lines of "We have these pots from shipwreck Z that carried oil and wine and had a rough capacity of X litres and here's why that's interesting...."
I think this is a good summary of the path of a historian in many countries in Continental Europe.
 

Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,979
România
Tbf, reading academic papers isn't always boring: Experimental replication shows knives manufactured from frozen human feces do not work (don't forget to download "Appendix A. Supplementary data" to see the pictures). Same goes for academic language.
The use of saliva to sharpen a frozen fecal blade, as the original account describes (Davis, 1998), might also be examined. However, based on the work of McCall and Pelton (2010), we are skeptical that saliva will increase fecal blade efficacy.
"Increase fecal blade efficiency" is a phenomenal phrase.
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,721
Westmorland
1) There is a lot of snobbery among the academic crowd for historians who are outside the ivory tower. They aren't "real historians". They don't necessarily have degrees in history - as a matter of fact they don't necessarily have degrees at all. They don't necessarily use all the new and faddish jargon. They aren't part of the club, in other words, they haven't followed the guild's rules for induction. That makes members of the said guild quite irritated. But that doesn't change the fact that those historians and their work are just as legitimate as their university tenured colleagues. Shoddy scholarship should disqualify a historian's work, not lack of membership in an exclusive club.
There's also a lot of inverse snobbery from some non-academic historians, who like to:-

1. Talk about 'ivory towers'. This is a shorthand way of saying that academic historians are entitled and/or out of touch.

2. Talk about 'faddish jargon'. This is a shorthand way of saying that academic historians are in thrall to fashion.

3. Talk about being 'part of the club'. This is a shorthand way of saying that academic historians are part of some shadowy conspiracy.

4. Put the rejection of the work of non-academic historians down to academic snobbery, as though the concept that the work in question might not actually be very good had never entered their mind.

All of this is designed to create a narrative in which appeals to the authority of academic historians can be disregarded. It's an ad hominem attack on a grand scale.

Like Kirialax, I am engaged in doctoral research. Unfortunately for me:-

1. I don't live in an ivory tower. I live in what the inverse snobs like to call 'the real world'. I actually have a job and have to work to pay bills.

2. I don't use faddish jargon, as I've just about got enough self-respect and self discipline to be able to express myself without it.

3. I'm not part of any club or conspiracy. No-one puts any pressure on me as to what I should think. Indeed, I feel encouraged to express my opinions.

4. I have work rejected just like anyone else.

I have met many leading academics in my field and, almost without exception, they are normal people who do not look down their noses at other people.

Let's flip this. Would anyone seriously argue that, in general terms, an enthusiastic DIY buff is likely to be as good as wiring a house than a time-served electrician?

Would we accuse time-served electricians of using faddish jargon, just because we don't know what three core and earth is or what or PAT testing means?

Would we assume that criticism by a time-served electrician of electrical work carried out by someone who wasn't a time-served electrician was motivated by a desire to keep people out of the electrician's club?
 
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Peter Graham

Ad Honorem
Jan 2014
2,721
Westmorland
A shadowy conspiracy which does what?
I'm not the person to ask, as I don't think there are any shadowy conspiracies. But by way of an example, check out threads on things like Richard and the Princes in the Tower. Orm indeedm any thread where a poster clamours for 'the truth' (meaning 'agreeing with them') and accuses the academic establishment of hiding the truth, usually in pursuit of some politically correct ideology.
 
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Offspring

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
8,979
România
I'm not the person to ask, as I don't think there are any shadowy conspiracies. But by way of an example, check out threads on things like Richard and the Princes in the Tower. Orm indeedm any thread where a poster clamours for 'the truth' (meaning 'agreeing with them') and accuses the academic establishment of hiding the truth, usually in pursuit of some politically correct ideology.
Ah, yes. They sometimes also accuse academics of being afraid to tell the truth.