My Beautiful Wickedness


What kind of historian am I?
July 5, 2007, 2:21 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Gerald knows what kind of historian he was meant to be, but don’t let him fool you. He’s found what makes him happy and that is always a smart thing.

I don’t think I believe in the opposition between those who research and those who teach, but maybe I’m kidding myself.

Me? I love to research. I can easily go into an archive at 8 am and resent every bathroom break that tears me away from my material until the joint closes at 6 pm. I loved research so much that I almost didn’t get my dissertation done because I couldn’t bear to stop. I am slowly recovering my love of writing, which had left me for a while. I like to read, I like to think…yeah…I like the whole academic historian thing. I am currently working on my book (which is why there are no posts early in the morning!) and I’ve got some articles working their way through press, so I am just beginning to start to publish. I’m not so great at the conference glad-handing and my nametag (who? from where?) might as well be an invisibility cloak, but that’s not what I aspire to. I won’t ever be a Big Name, professionally speaking, but I’m ok with that. I don’t have the temperament or the discipline it takes to get Big and stay Big.

I am an ok teacher. I don’t do anything particularly brilliant or novel in the classroom. I talk. I listen. I ask some questions. I listen some more. I make my students read a whole lot and I ask that they care about what they do, but I guess that’s pretty par for the course. I care about my teaching and I think I’m getting better (maybe?), but other than showing my students that you can earn a living doing something “clean” that you absolutely love (which is not something that most of of my first-gen working-class students will have seen before), I don’t think that I really am going to rock their world with what I do in the classroom. I like teaching, though. I think it’s an important job to do well and I particularly like my job, as I get to teach many of the new social studies teachers in my state.

I like talking about history in public settings, sharing what historians are finding out about the past. I admire public historians, museum curators, archaeologists, and others who interpret material culture for mass audiences, as that’s the way that most Americans get what knowledge they have of the past. Ok, probably Mel Gibson films really…but then, definitely museums! And museums are considered more reliable a source than films when people are surveyed about the sources they trust — right up there with Grandma. Yep…Grandma is considered the most authoritative historical source in America, according to a recent survey done by the NPS. Hell, most of the time, I’m even cool with Grandma.

I know it’s not much of a mission, but I’ve always thought it would be cool if I could just sit down with people who wanted to know some stuff and tell them what I know and we could talk ask better questions together and maybe go on about how we all come to our understandings about the past. Learning happens when someone needs to know something and he or she goes out to seek an answer.

Well, here we are. That’s what’s kind of historian I am.

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8 Comments so far
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I’d be willing to bet you do more “rocking” of your student’s worlds than you might think.

Comment by Gerald

Sounds great to me–sitting down with people and telling what you know. You are making me want to do some general history reading. Any suggestions of good books to start with?

Comment by leslie

Welcome, Leslie. If you could answer a few questions, I’d be happy to make a recommendation. What time period or region/country are you most interested in? (You’ll enjoy it more if you actually want to know something about the place and time you’re reading about!) Do you like more high politics stuff or do you like the politics of the everyday? Do you like myth-buster history or do you prefer that the historian not butcher and cook the sacred cow in front of you while still giving it to you straight? Do you like biography or would you rather have a broader narrative about society as a whole? Will you hold it against me if I recommend a book and you think it sucks?

Comment by bridgett

Leslie – If you do not mind my tossing in a suggestion; if you have any interest in Roman history there is a very good book called “Rubicon” by Tom Holland. He is concentrating on the time of Julius Caesar and the end of the Republic. It is very informative and he has a great prose style. He gives the reader some great biographical sketches and a vivid picture of life in Rome during that era. It is a fun read, which is not something that you can always say about a history book.

Bridgett- The style of this book really reminded me of “The Armada” by Garrett Mattingly, which I seem to recall you recommended to me many years ago.

Comment by Gerald

whew. That is a lot to think about. I loved American History and Western Civ, but I’m really looking for some good surveys–once I read some, I’ll probably narrow down some more definites eras to read about. Of course I won’t hold it against you if you recommend something that I don’t like. I just need help!
Definitely more interested in the every day stuff. Let me know if you need more input from me. And thanks Gerald! I can use two experts for the price (or blog) of one! 🙂

Comment by leslie

Ok, then! Try Gary Nash’s The Unknown American Revolution — it’s a social history of the ordinary people’s experience of revolution. There’s plenty of politics in it, but not many statehouses. I also like Dumenil and DuBois’s Through Women’s Eyes — it’s a survey textbook for US women’s history, but it reads well and it recenters the American history narrative onto women’s experience. Sara Evans’ *Born for Liberty* is also a good survey for women’s history.

An oldie but a goodie is The Armada by Mattingly. if you like Patrick O’Brien books and maritime histories, I’d also recommend any of the recent books by Nathaniel Philbrick. He’s a good writer and a fair historian and knows how to grab the imagination.

And I’ll think more and get back to you about other good ones in my field….

Comment by bridgett

If you are looking for a big sweeping multi-cultural world survey you might want to check out “Millenium” by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. He takes an look at the period from 1000-2000 AD, seeing the rise of Europe and the West as a sort of abberation in a world whose natural center has been, and probably will be again, in Asia. His work is more about culture and economics (in the sense of how people live and feed themselves) than traditional political history. What he has to say is not beyond debate, but it is a very interesting read.

Comment by Gerald

Thanks guys! I will be looking on amazon for your recommendations. And be happy that you guys can inspire someone who is out of school to want to know more about history~

Comment by leslie




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