The Art of Apparent Artlessness

There is an unspoken ideal among many academic historians when it comes to style. A good way to think of this is as ‘the art of apparent artlessness’. Wilhelm Roscher used this phrase to discuss the way Thucydides wins over his readers unawares, subtly seducing their thinking, without making his argument explicit.[1] This style of […]

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Style Notes: Louis Chevalier

I remember first reading – and not understanding – Louis Chevalier’s Classes laborieuses et classes dangereuses as an undergraduate. The book is a classic, and Chevalier’s influence on later historians of crime and criminality is obvious. Foucault, for instance, is full of echoes of Chevalier’s ideas. But it’s also a very hard book to categorise. Not really a […]

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Style Notes (II): Adam Thorpe

Crafting metaphors is dangerous for historians. They may enrich prose, illustrating and amplifying meaning, making ideas seem real and concrete, but when a historian develops and grows a metaphor, they are at risk of giving life to a distortion. Clarification and illustration fade into simplification and emplotment. The metaphors we use rarely come to us ready […]

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Style Notes: Robert Darnton

One thing that I think blogging can usefully do that historians don’t often do in other, more formal writing spaces is think about the basics of writing style in history. It’s actually the kind of thing that many of us – I suspect – do all the time in the pub, over coffee, or even […]

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