... [W]hile the discipline has been bogged down in post-empiricist soul-searching, history itself has been, to a considerable degree, taken over by non-specialists. It is a platitude that ‘the past’ has become public and that academic historians do not have sole access to or control over it. Most of the volumes shelved in the history sections of bookshops are not written by what I consider to be historians. The history that appears on television is similarly dominated by non-specialists. Usually styling themselves ‘writer and historian’, ‘journalist and historian’, ‘broadcaster and historian’ or whatever … ‘and historian’, they are in most cases, in fact, writers, journalists, broadcasters or whatever who have written books about history. Having written a book about history does not make you a historian. This does not mean that these books and broadcasts represent ‘bad history’ (though frequently they do), that they do not present factually accurate accounts, that they do not contain valid and valuable ideas and interpretations or – most importantly of all – that they do not play a huge part in getting people interested in the past. The problem for history is in important regards the opposite. What they do, they do very well. That leaves the academic discipline of history in a very difficult position. What exactly do proper, qualified, university historians have to offer? In the current political climate the surfeit, ubiquity and (by its own lights) quality of popular history places the discipline very much under siege.
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