History Wars

October 15th, 2006

The TLS has two very interesting essays on the changes rung between academic and ‘popular’ history writing, and why and how — i.e. a bit of a historical overview of the last 50 years of writing history.  The second essay starts with reference to Our Favorite Marxist Historian, Eric Hobsbawm, who himself was a ‘popular’ historian, though, alas, he’s not one that succeeds at being read aloud — though Vaquero and I did work our way through his entire set of the history of the 20th century this way.

The reason I mention this is that some of the same controversies and changes in perspective for those who write history are also visible to those who write fiction, particularly Science Fiction and historical fiction.  Additionally, the second TLS essay on history writing is by Stella Tillyard, among whose works is Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire, much read and admired by many of us here at Deep Genre.  She also refers to others many of us have been reading for years, such as Antonia Fraser.

Here’s a quote pulled from the first essay:

“The opening article was even more confrontational. It asserted that the first half of the twentieth century was “a time when most historians temporarily lost their bearings”, and declared that “academic history, for all its scholarly rigour, had succeeded in explaining remarkably little about the workings of human society or the fluctuations in human affairs”. The remedy, it suggested, was not to “grub away in the old empirical tradition” but to forge a closer relationship with the social sciences, especially social anthropology, sociology and social psychology, to develop a more sophisticated conceptual vocabulary and to employ statistical techniques. The future lay with the computer, which would replace the “stout boots” worn by the advanced historians of the previous generation. In the United States the new econometric history was already “sweeping all before it”.”

Love, C.

3 Responses to “History Wars”

  1. Lois Tiltonon 15 Oct 2006 at 8:24 pm

    Fascinating essays, both!

    I do think the point about publishers as serpents still holds up, however – consider Victor Davis Hansen as the fallen Adam.

  2. Vivian Francison 16 Oct 2006 at 4:51 pm

    Well, this only superficially relates, but I figured out something after reading these articles. I once heard a painter express the opinion he would rather have an audience for his work that knew about painting/art. I couldn’t understand this. Why limit your audience? (Although painting doesn’t have a “popular” audience to the same scope of genre.)

    However, If the painter’s biggest interest was in the craft of painting, sort of craft for craft’s sake, then it would make sense that he would want an audience that knew about the craft and history of painting. I’m glad to have made some headway on that mystery!

  3. Katharine Kerron 16 Oct 2006 at 7:46 pm

    I didn’t realize that non-subscribers could read TLS articles online or I would have posted the information for the article I discussed earlier. You learn something every day. :-)


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