History? Who likes history here?

Discussion in 'Education and Academia' started by KateHolzDoKunoichi, Sep 15, 2004.

  1. nicodemus

    nicodemus Member+

    Sep 3, 2001
    Cidade Mágica
    Club:
    PAOK Saloniki
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I just realized that I rambled and didn't really answer your question. I think those type of histories are more popular because they're more action filled.

    I think they read more like stories and don't really approach the "why" or "what does this mean to us today" or other similar questions. They tend to be written more "journalistically" or "story-esque" and qualify more as entertainment than "true history."
     
  2. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    That's really interesting about Amazon and how it's come to play a role as a 'recommender' of histories. I just looked at what they recommend that I buy given my previous orders, and they do bring up many of the 'important' books that I was looking for and not finding. (My list is really weird though, a book about Indians and land change in colonial new england next to a book called "Market Operations in Electrical Power Systems").
     
  3. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    This is a difficult question, but I think the answer lies in the technical aspects of history. At a certain point, certain books that are groundbreaking in their field will not be appreciated by the general audience. Not only would you need a true interest in the subject, but the work is likely to go over one's head. I'm currently re-reading Gruen's The Hellenistic World and the Coming of Rome, which I think is a great book - I like Gruen and I think how he differs with Harris is fascinating. I also recently read Nathan Rosenstein's new book (he's a disciple of Gruen) which was highly technical (although available on Amazon), went into great depth, and answered a question that most people familiar with history wouldn't even be able to know needed answering. (Why exactly was there landlessness prior to the Gracchi reforms, and did Hannibal's Italian campaigns/slavery cause it?) I really liked it, but again, you really have to appreciate the subject. Then I turned around and read "Rome and the Enemy", which was interesting in the first chapter, but then the writer (who's a serious academic) got waaaay ahead of herself and started writing things that either made little sense or are obvious to anyone with more than a 3rd grade education. (The Romans considered winning military victories impressive? No!) However, her book is much more accessible, because its full of anecdotes, often for anecdotal sake, and it asks a much more philosophical and "interesting" question that anyone can argue about. Her book was also a history book of the month club. Despite that, I thought it was pretty poor, and that she failed to use the siege of Masada as an example of Roman perseverence in war was simply criminal. Plus she made some bad conjectures on the tail end of chapters, sort of to "broaden the perspective". Despite that, her book will be bought far more often and enjoyed more often. Why? Because at the end of the day, there's a reason why serious history is written for students of serious history. Its harder, more technical, and requires much more dedication because its not going to have as many funny anecdotes.
    This is not, in any sense of the word, to disparage people who do read non-scholarly history. I have the same problem in other fields - I can't read technical political science articles and papers. I might grasp the overall concepts, but references to prior theorists and obscure terms will be beyond me. So unless I'm truly fascinated, I'll get bored and move on. But if I were that fascinated in the subject, I'd probably have majored in it.
    That being said, there are occasionally works that bridge this gap, and are accessible to both audiences. In my field, books by Rostoftzeff, Mommsen, Gelzer and Gruen's Last Generation of the Roman Republic fit the bill. And, although I'm not a fan, so does Syme's Roman Revolution, if only because its like looking at World War II from a Roman prism. Now, back to work! Where I'm a viking. Well, no, I'm not. But I am in Scandinavia at the moment!
     
  4. Bluto11

    Bluto11 The sky is falling!

    May 16, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    negative, what does her write about?


    probably something Irish
     
  5. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    I think the technical and interest reasons are definitely true for a lot of great works, especially in more esoteric areas of history. There are a bunch of books that have been tremendously influential on my work that I'd never, ever recommend to anyone who wasn't a professional historian and that I wouldn't read on my own time (Theda Skocpol's Protecting Soldiers and Mothers, really smart, but no fun at all).

    The books I was looking for, though, are serious history but also books that speak to deep seated (seeded? I'm never sure) public issues like race and ethnicity in modern America, the development of a consumer society, immigration, etc. And they're fairly approachable, not an overwhelming number of funny anecdotes, but memorable ones that make their points. These are the books that should be, for serious American history, like the various books that you refer to below that reach a popular audience. And maybe they do and people who are serious readers just don't use chain stores like Borders. (maybe I'll check their Amazon sales numbers). But I am struck by their total absence in a section marked US History with their place taken by the sixteenth retelling of the Battle of Chancelloresville and the fifth manifestation of Brokaw's Greatest Generation franchise (who we now learn courtesy of Grover Nordquist were unAmerican since they supported the New Deal).

    I don't want to create a straw man of the Civil War history reading guy who chokes out shelf space that should be reserved for what I think is valuable, but I will if I have to... But seriously, I don't want to disparage the public fascination with great battles and great men; I want to understand it. Are people reading these because they're inherently more entertaining? To understand "greatness"? And what views and understandings of 'history' do people get from these books. Who and what makes change in them?



    Well, a few hours ago I was in an imaginary CSPAN discussion between Jane Addams, Lincoln Steffens, TR, and Woodrow Wilson. Which isn't as cool as being a viking, but it's not bad.
     
  6. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    My undergrad BA was a double-major in history and English, and I love the subject. Right now, I'm working almost full-time, going to grad school full-time, doing an archival internship, and married, so I don't get much time to read for fun. And when I'm reading lots of non-fiction for school already, I tend to read fiction for relaxation (read a Stuart Kaminsky mystery this week).

    I did read John Julius Norwich's trilogy on Byzantium at the end of the summer, though. Good stuff. (Loved the ending--I'm a sucker for that "Doomed civilization goes down fighting" scene).

    I'm not an expert on anything, and my reading tastes are probably pretty 'safe,' but that's OK--I like to know a little about a lot of things.
     
  7. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    Which archive are you interning at? Do you have a permanent head cold?

    Anytime I have to spend more than a week in the archive I get the mother of all sinus infections.
     
  8. nicodemus

    nicodemus Member+

    Sep 3, 2001
    Cidade Mágica
    Club:
    PAOK Saloniki
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    Yikes. Maybe I'm glad I didn't get the archival position I applied for last year. :eek:
     
  9. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
    Chicago Fire
    Don't they let you out? It sounds like they make you camp in there ;)
     
  10. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    They used some ************-ass paper in the federal government in the 1950 and 60s, especially the carbon copies of letters. Those things flake apart and turn to dust and it just flies up in the air whenever you open a folder.

    I've had much better luck doing research on the 19th century. The material is better taken care of, they kept letter books to keep track of correspondence which are so much better to read than lose carbons, if you can make out the handwriting (they do mean that some poor sap had to write every letter twice), and the archivists have usually thought about how to preserve things and what should be preserved, rather than just filing everything. Had I thought about how much paper people created in the 20th century, I would have thought seriously about an earlier topic.
     
  11. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
    Chicago Fire
    That would be some seriously good advice to students looking into theses and dissertations. Hadn't thought of that, having a background in literary studies (though now that I think of it, maybe I'm glad I didn't do a dissertation that involved editing a 20th C. writer's letters).
     
  12. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    I can only last about 6 hours a day. After that, my brain shuts off. Six hours of breathing dust, though, I'm probably going to get gray-lung disease. ;)

    They've never made me camp out, but I do know a guy who spent a month long research trip living out of a tent. I'm sure the archivists were real happy to see (or smell) him after about 2 weeks of that.

    I have felt like I'm on display, though. At the national archives in San Bruno (down by the SF airport) they have this glassed-in area where anyone doing non-geneological research has to work. All the folks coming in to look up when their grandparents immigrated would slowly walk past the glass looking in at me. I felt like there was a plaque outside with something like "Historian: homo borectus. The natural habitat of the historian is among old papers, in front of giant walls of books, or fumbling with a powerpoint presentation. They are known for their ability to lull large groups of young humans to sleep."
     
  13. Dr. Wankler

    Dr. Wankler Member+

    May 2, 2001
    The Electric City
    Club:
    Chicago Fire

    The Field Museum in Chicago had chunks of the Dead Sea Scrolls on display in 2000, and scholars could work on very tiny fragments. Alsa, in a booth. The booth didn't have a ceiling, though, so when my wife and I went, the woman had to listen to everything, including comments about her wardrobe, etc., That all ended when she said, in a thick German accent, without her batting an eye or flicking her tweezers, "I can hear everything you say." The process probably repeated itself throughout the day, I would imagine.
     
  14. nicodemus

    nicodemus Member+

    Sep 3, 2001
    Cidade Mágica
    Club:
    PAOK Saloniki
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I bought a book recently called Paper Before Print: The History & Impact of Paper in the Islamic World. While that would bore 99.9999999% of the earth's inhabitants to sleep, I can't wait to read it. I might start on that after I finish my current read.
     
  15. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    Norwich is a good read. There is so little that is known about certain time periods of Byzantine history that often he's as deep as you're going to get. For example, historians have just fairly recently started to challenge the conventional wisdom of the thematic system supposedly set up by Heraclius in the aftermath of the Persian invasion. Or the absolute lack of any knowledge we have on iconoclasm or the first Arab wars. :(
     
  16. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    Well, a true historian's ability is to bridge the gap, but few are capable of great scholarship yet overriding scope at the same time. Some historians, while quite good, never rise beyond the "generalist" scope - people like Michael Grant, who's a good writer, but hasn't really contributed anything original in years. He is, however, a good writer, who can bridge centuries with his words. So to find an author who can do both is rare. Sadly, they're rarely the ones who get the big press, because they're likely to have built their name with good solid scholarship, which doesn't really sell.

    Its a simpler read that inspires. Its much, much easier to read a book about Stonewall Jackson and how his troops moved and just imagine it than it is to seriously think about why the 60s went the way they did. Sadly, no one ever went broke underestimating the American public.
     
  17. Bluto11

    Bluto11 The sky is falling!

    May 16, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    how do you have time to work full-time and go to grad school full-time? is it costing you much?
     
  18. pmannion

    pmannion Member
    Staff Member

    Apr 13, 2001
    Newfoundland
    Nat'l Team:
    Ireland Republic
    He's written a couple of books on the Cork IRA. Published through Oxford University Press.
    I only ask 'cause he's from Newfoundland and teaches at my university.
     
  19. Bluto11

    Bluto11 The sky is falling!

    May 16, 2003
    Chicago, IL
    cool, i'll look into it
     
  20. pething101

    pething101 Member

    Jul 31, 2001
    Smyrna, Ga
    Club:
    West Ham United FC
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I teach history, I hope my high school kids find it remotely interesting at times.
     
  21. Robert25

    Robert25 New Member

    Jun 1, 2004
    Los Angeles
    Again I am guilty of not reading the entire thread...but has anyone similar ideas on my love of history?

    1st I just seem to understand History. Like the dates, events, people are just so clear to me. The main periods i have studied are Ancient, modern, and enlightenment periods. Those are my favorites. I never needed to study for tests in school for hstory, i just used what i knew and got kicka*s grades.

    2nd. History seems like the best story. Novels deal in non-fiction, but fiction is not any less exciting. I mean the characters and events in some cases can almost be described as invented, but it was true. The good, the bad, and the boring are all elements of history.

    ps who else thinks Edward Gibbon is one of the greatest Historians ever?
     
  22. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    Compared to Mommsen, Gibbon would be lucky to be considered a hack.
     
  23. needs

    needs Member

    Jan 16, 2003
    Brooklyn
    What's the position of Gibbon within Roman historiography today?

    Is he like Frederick Jackson Turner within western history, whom historians continue to position themselves in relation to? (Western historians still refer to Turnerian perspectives as a shorthand for a group of assumptions about how to view western history). Or can you be totally ignorant of his ideas and still understand the present shape of the field?
     
  24. bigredfutbol

    bigredfutbol Moderator
    Staff Member

    Sep 5, 2000
    Woodbridge, VA
    Club:
    DC United
    Nat'l Team:
    United States
    I actually don't start until next week. Which kinda sucks, as I have to put in 50 hours this semester, and there will only be ten weeks left by that point.
    It's the Alexandria City Archives, by the way.
     
  25. nicephoras

    nicephoras A very stable genius

    Jul 22, 2001
    Eastern Seaboard
    Gibbon had the misfortune of writing his works before Von Ranke developed history as a real discipline. As such, his approach is obsolete, and his conclusions have been effectively dismissed. He added little true originality to the thought of the period, instead transcribing much of the history he found. Also, his blase description of the Byzantine Empire as a barbarous place of assasinations didn't win him any friends. The notion that religion brought down Rome is now as dismissed as the idea that Romans were poisoned by led in the pipes.
    In short, no. Gibbon is not in the slightest the axle upon which Roman historiography turns.
    I'm not sure there really is one anymore, to be honest. Roman historiorgaphy has become too diverse and technical to really have such a fulcrum. On some issues, yes, but not on most. Thirty years ago I might still have said that the Syme - Mommsen views were diametrically opposed in certain ways, but as Caesarism has largely died, that's no longer the case. Especially as Mommsen and Syme have been shown to be such typical products of their respective ages.
     

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