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. This style of […]Read more "The Art of Apparent Artlessness"
This post on office space in UK higher education history departments is based on an online survey that 174 people filled in via a link I tweeted out last week. The survey asked respondents about their employment conditions, employer, and office space. Three apologies before I begin: 1. I didn’t ask about age, disabilities or gender, […]Read more "A Room of One’s Own?"
The simplest story is the one which always has the best chance of being believed, usually it corresponds least to the facts. I am writing the story of a murder in 1925 by peering over the shoulder of someone else. More specifically, I am peering over the shoulder of a shadowy figure named Monsieur G. Monsieur […]Read more "The Shadowy Monsieur G"
Should historians be more honest about their intuitions? Take the example of how historians imagine their subjects as characters. In his book Poetry in the Making, Ted Hughes tells a story about how the novelist H.E. Bates was in the habit of making up biographies for people he came across: Some of these little fantasies […]Read more "Fate in Fact"
Out of all the writing about people that is in existence, it is unbelievable how little seems to contain any life at all. It seems that it must be terribly difficult to write about a person in such a way that the reader can feel what he was like alive, what his presence was. History […]Read more "In defense of ‘character’"
There is nothing harder than starting. Do historians feel this more keenly than other writers? Like our endings, our beginnings can feel arbitrary, as if there is something false about carving a piece out of History to say this is the story. The only way to overcome this artificiality is to embrace it. What […]Read more "Beginnings"
When my writing has been criticized, I retreat behind academic armour. This is partly a ‘positive’ effect. ‘Positive’ not in the sense of being a good thing, but in the sense that it leads to additions. Things like more evidence, or more caveats. Things like more authoritative names. Things like footnotes. Footnotes convey weightiness. They parry, but they […]Read more "Perspex Armour"