Who should write the history we consume?

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thehistorybore
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Public history is filled with problems; the people who are responsible for proliferating history for the general public are often idiots with dangerous/extremely biased/not always historically accurate views (*cough*Niall Ferguson*cough*). They make history interesting, however; they know how to write readable books and present programmes that are engaging, which academics do not.

On the other side, academic historians will get all of the facts correct, and inform the consumer of any issues with the historical narrative, but they write books that are dry, and their programmes are often niche and poorly presented; and thus they struggle to engage with the public.

There's problems on both sides; but who should be responsible for public history?
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anarchism101
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I wouldn't say there's quite as much of a dichotomy as you paint here - many top academic historians do also write good popular history books - Ian Kershaw, for example. It's both a matter of topic and style - some topics the general public find more interesting than others; some academics just don't have a very engaging style of prose.

Though the problems with some popular histories are:
i) The general public are unlikely to read reviews, even less likely to read reviews by qualified specialists, giving them very little idea about the accuracy and merit of the books in question.
ii) Popular historians who are qualified academic historians often use popular history to misrepresent themselves as experts in areas they have little genuine expertise in. For example, Niall Ferguson has written on just about everything under the sun - 20th Century ethnic warfare, WW1 military history, British imperial history, and more - but his actual expertise is in monetary history, and that's the only area where he has engaged in serious primary research and made a significant contribution to historiography - all his books on other topics are almost entirely based on secondary sources.
iii) Popular historians often win attention by effectively becoming political commentators, regardless of the quality of their books.

You mentioned Ferguson, but David Starkey's another one. Well, to be fair, his actual history is OK, but his views on historiography are about 100 years behind.
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frankieboy
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The winners
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The BIG lie
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Any historian who goes against popular opinion and offends certain groups is worth listening to. It is only through questioning history we can learn from our mistakes like the IRAQ WAR and about every other mistake the West makes in the Middle East (on purpose?)

WW2 is the only war you can't really question and you know why. In our minds we want to see us as the good guys and the Germans as all those evil bad guys. By vilifying them as evil Nazi monsters we use that to justify the atrocities committed against the Germans civilian population. Expulsions, mass murders, bombings like of Dresden.

But you can't sympathies with those people who died without being a Nazi sympathizer. Am I correct?

Go look up some aftermath photographs and videos of the bombings in Dresden and tell me did those people deserve to die? the same for those Japanese and the atomic bombings against their civilian population.

British were at times as bad if not worse than Nazi Germany imo
Churchill can be quoted saying more racist things than Hitler.
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Jjj90
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(Original post by thehistorybore)
On the other side, academic historians will get all of the facts correct, and inform the consumer of any issues with the historical narrative, but they write books that are dry, and their programmes are often niche and poorly presented; and thus they struggle to engage with the public.
I'm not sure I can agree with this comment at all, there are very interesting history books coming out all the time, very well written, not at all dry. Just look on Amazon. And generally history documentaries are very well done, the BBC has a ton of really good stuff on BBC 4 - there are plenty of good documentaries on Sky and Freeview too.

To say academics do not write readable books is ridiculous; i'm reading Napoleon the Great by Andrew Roberts, not at all a dry account of Napoleon. I just finished Conquerers by Roger Crowley, a very very entertaining read. Waterloo by Bernard Cornwell, Nelson by Andrew Lambert, Galipolli by Alan Moorhead, all recent reads, all very strong sellers, all highly recommended and not at all obscure or difficult to find. Narrative history is extremely engaging and readable, I enjoyed The Plantagenets by Dan Jones immeasurably more that I enjoyed the first Game of Thrones book (the only one I've read).

There absolutely is no problem with the standard of historical writing at the moment. I can only presume that you haven't read any history books recently. There are so many great books I can't keep up.

"They make history interesting, however; they know how to write readable books and present programmes that are engaging, which academics do not." - That is total nonsense, and ironically you seem to be as blindly biased as the very people that you deride.
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That Bearded Man
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(Original post by The BIG lie)
Any historian who goes against popular opinion and offends certain groups is worth listening to. It is only through questioning history we can learn from our mistakes like the IRAQ WAR and about every other mistake the West makes in the Middle East (on purpose?)

WW2 is the only war you can't really question and you know why. In our minds we want to see us as the good guys and the Germans as all those evil bad guys. By vilifying them as evil Nazi monsters we use that to justify the atrocities committed against the Germans civilian population. Expulsions, mass murders, bombings like of Dresden.

But you can't sympathies with those people who died without being a Nazi sympathizer. Am I correct?

Go look up some aftermath photographs and videos of the bombings in Dresden and tell me did those people deserve to die? the same for those Japanese and the atomic bombings against their civilian population.

British were at times as bad if not worse than Nazi Germany imo
Churchill can be quoted saying more racist things than Hitler.
Oliver Stone

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AlwaysWatching
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(Original post by thehistorybore)
Public history is filled with problems; the people who are responsible for proliferating history for the general public are often idiots with dangerous/extremely biased/not always historically accurate views (*cough*Niall Ferguson*cough*). They make history interesting, however; they know how to write readable books and present programmes that are engaging, which academics do not.

On the other side, academic historians will get all of the facts correct, and inform the consumer of any issues with the historical narrative, but they write books that are dry, and their programmes are often niche and poorly presented; and thus they struggle to engage with the public.

There's problems on both sides; but who should be responsible for public history?
Niall Ferguson isn't the only public historian. Some are a little biased, but I don't think I've seen anything bad - even the journalist *** historian like Andrew Marr, Max Hastings and Jeremy Paxman have some pretty good books out.

In answer to your question, nobody. I don't think there should be any authority that governs historiography or is responsible for the character of its discourse
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AlwaysWatching
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(Original post by The BIG lie)
Any historian who goes against popular opinion and offends certain groups is worth listening to. It is only through questioning history we can learn from our mistakes like the IRAQ WAR and about every other mistake the West makes in the Middle East (on purpose?)

WW2 is the only war you can't really question and you know why. In our minds we want to see us as the good guys and the Germans as all those evil bad guys. By vilifying them as evil Nazi monsters we use that to justify the atrocities committed against the Germans civilian population. Expulsions, mass murders, bombings like of Dresden.

But you can't sympathies with those people who died without being a Nazi sympathizer. Am I correct?

Go look up some aftermath photographs and videos of the bombings in Dresden and tell me did those people deserve to die? the same for those Japanese and the atomic bombings against their civilian population.

British were at times as bad if not worse than Nazi Germany imo
Churchill can be quoted saying more racist things than Hitler.
No you are not correct. Plenty of historians have questioned WW2 and the "morality" of the allies.

I can also tell you haven't engaged in any sort of historical study whatsoever by posing such leading questions without first refuting the original reasoning (bombing of Dresden and Hiroshima), never mind a historians view on it.

Which times? what quotes? The context? The implementation/ consequence of said quote? What comparison to which activity? Are civilians justified targets? (yes/ no and why)
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Airmed
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*bagging this space so I can type a reply later this evening*

Ok, so I've thought about this, and I think that regardless, written history will be biased in one respect or another. I think it is hard to decide who should write what history when in reality if you can about a subject you're going to have an opinion on it (by God I hope it's an informed decision though!)
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The Warsmith
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Historians, of course. Anyone with any once of care for the history of their country will want to know the unabridged truth.
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gladders
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Everyone should write history, so we have many competing narratives with which to test our assumptions.
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anarchism101
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(Original post by gladders)
Everyone should write history, so we have many competing narratives with which to test our assumptions.
There's a difference between competing legitimate interpretations and narratives and an anything goes approach.

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Greenlaner
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(Original post by thehistorybore)
Public history is filled with problems; the people who are responsible for proliferating history for the general public are often idiots with dangerous/extremely biased/not always historically accurate views (*cough*Niall Ferguson*cough*). They make history interesting, however; they know how to write readable books and present programmes that are engaging, which academics do not.

On the other side, academic historians will get all of the facts correct, and inform the consumer of any issues with the historical narrative, but they write books that are dry, and their programmes are often niche and poorly presented; and thus they struggle to engage with the public.

There's problems on both sides; but who should be responsible for public history?
Well first off, Niall Ferguson is by definition an "academic historian", whether you agree with his views or not. Which brings me nicely to my second point, that academic historians are certainly not infallible. They can hold biases and predjudices like anybody else. They can be ideologically driven and can misrepresent or omit facts to further their own agendas or fit a certain narrative. And of course some simply make mistakes, they're only human at the end of the day.

As for who should be responsible for public history, I don't think it can be entrusted to any one institution or body. It is ultimately the responsibility of every individual who cares enough to really know history. Never just take somebody else's word for it, do your own research, go to the source material, examine the evidence for yourself and form your own conclusions.
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Anti-anti
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The political representatives of "the chosen people" ✡ have written a lot of history.


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The_dog
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Generally it's true, this history is from the point of view or the advantage of "the tribe".


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