Dear academics: I am sorry for ruining all of the words. Here is how it happened: I was doing two things. Consciously, I was marking student work. I try to be fair, kind, and critical, but – as anyone who has done this knows – it is really hard to simultaneously register the good and […]Read more "Painstaking and Curiously Magisterial, in Parts"
There is a collateral danger to the commitment that many historians share to telling the truth about the past: is there only one story to tell? The historians’ options might at first might seem limited, especially when compared to the fiction writer. How would a historian follow James Scott Bell’s advice for planning? To find […]Read more "Plot Like a Poet"
All falsities in writing – and the consequent dry-rot that spreads into the whole fabric – come from the notion that there is a stylistic ideal which exists in the abstract, like a special language, to which all [writers] might attain. All writing is done for specific audiences. A research article in a specialist historical […]Read more "Audience in Mind"
A friend once told me that the first morning after they had moved to a new neighbourhood, their dog found half a hotdog lying on the lawn of a neighbour’s house. Many years later, the dog was still in the habit, every morning, of making the detour from their walking route to check for hotdogs. […]Read more "Dogged"
I sometimes wonder what outsiders think archival research is like. The message blasting from mass culture is not reassuring. From the ‘archaeologist’ Indiana Jones to Dan Brown’s ‘symbologist’ Robert Langdon, audiences are told that archive work is exciting, and dangerous, that it’s ok to lie and steal to get the information, and that men always […]Read more "Floundering"
A recent workshop hosted at the UEA as part of the ‘Inner Lives’ project, which investigates emotions and the supernatural from the medieval to the modern period had me thinking again about some of the key problems that structure how historians have thought about selfhood and subjectivity. What did I take away? A sense that the […]Read more "Depth Perception"
Will a day pass, the nineteenth-century newspapers asked, that does not offer new proof of the persistence of our superstition? If there were any need to provide more examples of how much ignorance and credulity remain deeply rooted in the minds of the population, the facts we are about to present will demonstrate this sad […]Read more "Figures Who Seem to Belong to a Different Time"