[SIGCIS-Members] Fwd: Why don't real historians write popular works?
dspicer at computerhistory.org
Mon Oct 13 08:41:57 PDT 2014
Great observation Dave… “my Father’s house has many rooms…”
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On Oct 13, 2014, at 8:33 AM, <dave.walden.family at gmail.com<mailto:dave.walden.family at gmail.com>> <dave.walden.family at gmail.com<mailto:dave.walden.family at gmail.com>> wrote:
(I sent this message earlier in response to Jonathan's but it doesn't appear in the archive, so I am trying again.)
At 07:03 PM 10/12/2014, Jonathan Coopersmith wrote:
There is another reason why historians don't write popular books, a fear of being labelled a synthesizer by one's colleagues. Admittedly, that may be partially due to jealousy at the publicity and income of a best seller, but it is a real issue especially within the reward structures (such as they exist) of universities.
I wish there was a little more tolerance for different approaches and views.
I see many things as real history work: narrow research into primary sources for narrow audiences; synthesis for broad audiences; histories with lots of technology details; personal stories written by participants in the history; writing with lots of context and historiography; writing without context and historiography; etc.
I envision all these different types of history writers struggling to make a living or accomplish what they see as a worthy life in the environment in which they chose to work (each with some annoyance at the way their environment operates). I bet very few make "big bucks" from writing computing history. Even a "best seller" in the computing history domain perhaps doesn't make enough money to enable the writer to stop working (although I suspect that a writer with a popular success can make, for a while, some additional money giving paid lectures).
I see everyone having their own compulsions for writing (people who don't like to write or don't have a need to write don't write enough to matter): some people write to further their careers; some find a way to make a career of writing; some write for the joy of seeing themselves in print; some write to record what they want the world to know; etc. (Given all the success Isaacson has had outside of writing history, I'd guess he is writing his books for some other primary reason than to live off of the book advance or royalties.)
I also suspect that when members of the various tribes get together alone (professionally trained historians or amateur historians or journals historians, etc.), they all have dismissive things to say about the people not in their particular tribe and the way that other tribe writes history and the way their world works.
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