[SIGCIS-Members] Why don't real historians write popular works?

Ceruzzi, Paul CeruzziP at si.edu
Wed Oct 8 13:33:12 PDT 2014

I'm willing to let it go, and be happy that this story is getting out, even if imperfectly.  Heck, I was chastised for spelling Sergey Brin as "Sergei" in one of my publications, although in my defense a Russian scholar at my office says it was OK.  I really want to see what Hollywood does with this story. They botched the Jobs biopic, but it looks like they are going to do a good job with Alan Turing. Let'e hope for the best. I am sure you've heard the story that, even if Hollywood picks up your script, by the time it appears on screen the only words of your script that they will have kept are "and" and "the."  That story was repeated to me by a person who had a novel made into a movie, and who otherwise was very enthusiastic about a film about the ENIAC.

By the way  -- I knew Strobe Talbot, but it was a long, long time ago. He was a classmate of George W. at Yale, and editor of the Yale Daily News, back when being a newspaper editor meant something. I recall that, unlike W., he did not get tapped for Skull & Bones, which was somewhat of a scandal at the time. 

From: members-bounces at sigcis.org [members-bounces at sigcis.org] on behalf of James Sumner [james.sumner at manchester.ac.uk]
Sent: Wednesday, October 08, 2014 3:55 PM
To: members at sigcis.org
Subject: Re: [SIGCIS-Members] Why don't real historians write popular works?

Those pondering the challenges and possible unwinnability of this war may possibly draw inspiration, or at least solace, from a modern classic article in the history of science:

David Philip Miller, "The 'Sobel Effect': The Amazing Tale of How Multitudes of Popular Writers Pinched All the Best Stories in the History of Science and Became Rich and Famous while Historians Languished in Accustomed Poverty and Obscurity, and how this Transformed the World. A Reflection on a Publishing Phenomenon". Metascience 11 (2002), 185-200. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF02914819 (subscription)


On 08/10/2014 18:21, McMillan, William W wrote:

I know in some cases popular history and biography are produced by real historians, but the lively discussion on this list about the failings of popular writers in the history of computing gives me the impression that the field of battle has been left to the pithy and the superficial.  Is this community sniping from the hilltops, hoping that the writers down on the mass-market battlefield will march up with a white flag, an acknowledgment, and a pledge to respect real scholarship?

If real historians charged down the hill with a barrage of their own popular histories, wouldn't that overwhelm the errant?

Just askin'.


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