ⓘ Popular history

Popular history

ⓘ Popular history

Popular history is a broad and somewhat ill-defined genre of historiography that takes a popular approach, aims at a wide readership, and usually emphasizes narrative, personality and vivid detail over scholarly analysis. The term is used in contradistinction to professional academic or scholarly history writing which is usually more specialized and technical and, thus, less accessible to the general reader.


1. Conceptualizations

It is proposed that popular history is a "moral science" in the sense that recreates the past not only for its own sake but also to underscore how history could facilitate an ethically responsible present. Some view it as history produced by authors who are better interlocutors capable of translating the language of scientificity to ordinary everyday language.

Some scholars partly attributed the development of popular history to the increase of writers-turned-historians such as Benson Lossing, David Pae, and Mary Botham Howitt, who wrote historical events "in good style" and, thus, more appealing to the public.


2. Popular historians

Some popular historians are without academic affiliation while others are academics, or former academics, that have according to one writer "become somehow abstracted from the academic arena, becoming cultural commentators". Many worked as journalists, perhaps after taking an initial degree in history. Popular historians may become nationally renowned or best-selling authors and may or may not serve the interests of particular political viewpoints in their roles as "public historians". Many authors of "official histories" and "authorized biographies" would qualify as popular historians serving the interests of particular institutions or public figures.

Popular historians aim to appear on the "general lists" of general publishers, rather than the university presses that have dominated academic publishing in recent years. Increasingly, popular historians have taken to television where they are able, often accompanying a series of documentaries with a tie-in book.


3.1. Examples Academics

Recent examples of American popular historians with academic affiliations include Stephen E. Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Pauline Maier.

Recent examples of British popular historians who are also academics include Niall Ferguson, Mary Beard, Christopher Hibbert, Tom Holland, and Simon Schama, and – from a previous generation – Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Johnson, E. P. Thompson, A. J. P. Taylor an early pioneer of history on television and Christopher Hill. Much of Hugh Trevor-Ropers output was also directed at a popular audience. There is also Stella Tillyard and her work Aristocrats, which combined scholarly research with the popular method of presentation.


3.2. Examples Non academics

American non-academics include Walter Lord, Bruce Catton, Dan Carlin, Shelby Foote, David McCullough, Daniel J. Boorstin, Max Cutler, Ron Cutler, and Barbara W. Tuchman.

John Julius Norwich, Nirad Chaudhuri, Ramchandra Guha, Charles Allen, Rutger Bregman and Tariq Ali are popular British historians who have never been academics.

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