Sunday, September 12, 2010

Passion for the Past (pt. 3)

I have a question for you - what makes a historian a historian? I ask this because when I read some of the customer reviews on Amazon.com on history books that I may be interested in purchasing, many of these reviewers will say, for instance (and this is a direct copy-and-pasted comment): "There should be warning labels on histories like this one that are not written by actual historians."
So, I repeat, what makes a historian a historian?
For most of you reading this, you know my...ahem...past (pun intended); you know that my mother had said that I "came out of the womb into history," you know that not a day goes by where I'm not found either reading, watching, researching, or visiting history, you will know that nearly every weekend from May through December I am 'living' history with one of my reenacting groups.
I am a custodian for a public school system, and because of this, I have had the opportunity to work in every single building in our district at one time or another over the last 15 or so years. Since I am quite the talker, I have also had the opportunity to meet most of the educators in each of these buildings as well. As you may have already assumed, because our conversations tend to lean toward history, I have garnered a reputation for my passion and knowledge of American history, going as far back as the 'age of discovery' (Europeans coming to America) all the way up through the WWII era, with my specialty concentrating mainly on the mid-19th century period. I have received e-mails from numerous teachers from each level of education, whether elementary, middle, or high school - and even a previous superintendent - asking me for historical information and/or opinion. This happens quite frequently, and I enjoy "teaching the teacher". I have also been a part of school presentations, as well as presenting history in other locations such as museums, colleges, senior centers, festivals, etc.
But, I am not considered a 'historian' because I don't have that piece of paper that states that I graduated college with a masters degree in history. I am not considered a 'historian' because I didn't pay an outrageous sum of money taking silly filler classes just to get a piece of paper that says I 'know' history. I have gone nose to nose with so-called history majors, and they do know well what they were taught in college by their history professors, and they were taught exactly what these professors wanted them to know, opinions intact. And I have literally clobbered these college students due to their lack of actual historical social knowledge. I have had, for instance, an old acquaintance make ridiculous comments to me concerning history, claiming to be a student of history, yet states "The foundation laid by our leaders in the 17th and 18th are of course crucial but much of the social/economic realities of that time are not even remotely relevant to today."
Huh?
And yet, it's these folks that the media, when filming a historical documentary, will look up to, will go to, will quote, and will acknowledge when it comes to history.
I am not claiming to be the ultimate historian, a know-it-all, or historical genius by any means. I do know my stuff, however, especially when it comes to social history.
And, quite frequently I am finding I know more than (or at least will be on par with) so-called 'accredited historians.'
You know, those with that very expensive piece of paper.
Besides my history book collection (numbering in the hundreds - I lost count!), I have lots of help in my research. You see, there are many out their in internet blogger land who have a wealth of historical knowledge that can also go nose to nose with the best of the college grads. I have learned so much from these fellow bloggers (and they have also replied in the same to me!), as well as from my non-history-accredited museum docent friends, and between all of us we have garnered an awesome amount of historical facts and information, especially about everyday life of our ancestors and how the government's political decisions affected their lives then and how it affects us today.
Oh, I do realize that everything needs to be double-checked, especially if it's on the 'net, and that is what I do. I must say, though, that the historical bloggers I follow are usually spot on!
I guess what it boils down to is, just because one has a piece of paper that states they are accredited in history doesn't necessarily make them more of an authority than one who actually has studied the subject more intently, and probably for many years longer.
Now, if only the media would realize that.



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11 comments:

Deborah said...

I could not agree more about the historian issue. I worked for a very well know museum here in the east coast. I taught the American Studies students what they needed to learn at that 18th Century museum. They got the paper and I got nothing. When they are quoted, they are quoting my material and knowledge. Life can be very unfair. I love your blog and all the lovely pictures you post.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you for your kind words Deborah.
You hit the nail on the head of what I was trying to say. We are nothing unless we have that little piece of paper that says we are something, just ask one who DOES have a college degree - they'll agree only because they spent all that money to get it!

Mrs. G said...

Ken, the degree is *important* because without it you can't rightly sneer at the lesser peons. :-) OK, that being said, Mr. G has a B.S. and he isn't at all stuck up or arrogant about it, so there are some degreed people who are down to earth. I admire your knowledge of history but more importantly I admire your willingness to learn new things and change your opinions as further research brngs new information to your attention. Not everybody is that big.

Historical Ken said...

Thank you Paris.
You are, by the way, one of my blogger friends who I have learned so much from!
I realize not everyone with a degree is stuck up, although too many are.
I think my main complaint comes from those who will not listen to anyone unless they have that little piece of paper that says they are smarter than those without.
Actually, I think the Wizard from the Wizard of Oz said it best:
"We have universities, seats of great learning where men go to become great thinkers.
And when they come out, they think deep thoughts -- and with no more brains than you have.... But! They have one thing you
haven't got! A diploma!"
Thanks for sharing your knowledge!

Mrs. G said...

I agree, they feel the need to separate "us" from "them" and protect their turf. Besides, most college curriculum is hideously biased toward the left. I appreciate your insight as a historian of the common man.

Daibhre Mac said...

Amen. And not just in the field of History!

Historical Ken said...

You are so right Daibhri!

Eastlake Victorian said...

You ARE a historian because of your knowledge and not because of any sort of accreditation! Even the "experts" get their facts wrong a lot of the time, and that's what history is about... factual information, not opinion. You gain real expertise by reading and learning from others, not by sitting in a classroom.

You are, after all, HISTORICAL KEN!

Historical Ken said...

You guys are great!!!

Stephanie Ann said...

There is a difference. Historians study cause and effect relationships and the importance of events. We tend to focus more on everyday life and objects that don't mean "much" on a bigger scale. It's just a different kind of "historian."

I personally think the small stuff is important too, it is what keeps human interest--names and dates just don't do it. Knowing the everyday details also help weed out falsified documents and can absolutely help someone see events as they happened through the mindset of the people who were actually there at the time.

I wish we could find a good professional term for what we do. Unfortunately to "professional historians," we tend to be a joke. :(

No textbook will get people interested in History the way we do. The "professional historians" should at least give us the props for cultivating them a future history loving consumer base that will buy their books.:D

Sorry this was so long, I think this irks all of us! Great post.

Historical Ken said...

Wow Stephanie Ann!
Well said - especially "I wish we could find a good professional term for what we do. Unfortunately to "professional historians," we tend to be a joke."
That is so true, which is the core of my frustration.
Thank you!!