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."
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.