'From PhD to BBC': are academic historians too hungry for fame?





A satire on university politics published in 1908 introduced 'The Principle of Sound Learning', which stated that 'the noise of vulgar fame should never trouble the cloistered calm of academic existence'. This attitude to popular scholarship came to mind recently when eminent historian Sir Keith Thomas spoke to the Independent about the books he had read as a judge of the prestigious Wolfson History Prize.

He said: "There is a tendency for young historians who have completed their doctoral thesis to, rather than present it in a conventional academic form, immediately hire an agent, cut out the footnotes, jazz it all up a bit and try to produce a historical bestseller from what would have otherwise been a perfectly good academic work. The reality is that only a few of these works succeed commercially."

Thomas reportedly bemoaned a 'parasitic' relationship between high-flying popular historians, who let poor academics slave away in archives, doing the real work of research, before nabbing their findings and using them in mass-market paperbacks....



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