Academics vs. Popularizers: Debate breaks out in Historically Speaking

Historians in the News

One year ago, we published Maureen Ogle’s winsome account of leaving academic history to “go popular.” Two issues later, the Historical Society’s president, Eric Arnesen, himself a frequent writer of reviews for the Chicago Tribune, wrote an essay expressing concern that so-called popular historians do not make sufficient effort to incorporate the fruits of academic historical scholarship in their books. Arnesen selected two books to illustrate his concern. One of them was Adam Hochschild’s Bury the Chains, on the abolition of the British slave trade and slavery. Hochschild, an accomplished writer and editor, responded to Arnesen with a thoughtful letter that we published in the November/December 2007 issue. He also suggested that he would welcome further discussion on the relationship between popular and academic history. We invited Hochschild to write a think-piece, “Practicing History without a License.” Historically Speaking editor Donald A. Yerxa then recruited a good number of prominent historians and editors to respond to Hochschild. These include several authors of bestselling history books (one of whom won the Pulitzer Prize), editors of publications geared to general readers, and an editor of one of the world’s leading academic presses (which also has a trade division). Hochschild then drafted a rejoinder.

The following contributions to "Do You Need a License to Practice History?" are posted here in full:

Adam Hochschild, "Practicing History without a License"

Responses to Hochschild:
John Demos
Joseph J. Ellis
Joyce Seltzer

The print version includes other responses to Hochschild's piece by:

H. W. Brands
John Ferling
Felipe Fernández-Armesto
Thomas Fleming
James Goodman and Louis Masur: A Correspondence
John Lukacs
Joyce Lee Malcolm
Wilfred M. McClay
Greg Neale
Barry Strauss
Derek Wilson
John Wilson
Jay Winik

Read entire article at Editor's note in Historically Speaking (March/April 2008)

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