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To What Extent Is There Conflict Between Academic and Popular History Essay

Throughout time, there will continue to be a considerable divorce between academic and popular historians. As Margaret Conrad argues, popular historians have established the tension, by recreating “historical films without the involvement of trained historians”. This underscores the troubling gulf that sometimes separates public academics approaches to the past. Academic historians have been “too long focused” on professionalism, and discarded “generating” a “dialogue” (Conrad) with their contextual audiences.

The substantial dissolution between academic and popular historians is evident in a range of sources, essentially from Michelle Arrows to Herodotus and Thucydides to Bury. Inaccuracies continue to plague populist histories, and as such those within the academic field continue to rebut their rivals with these flaws. They argue that these, as Margaret Conrad states, “producers” of “historical films” intentionally integrate inaccuracies in order to entertain their audience, rather than inform. Contrasting this view, modern historian Michelle Arrows argues that “academic historians ignore TV and their [our] own peril”.

This viewpoint conveys the necessity of establishing a balance between academic historians and popular historians to, as Margaret Conrad believes, “generate a dialogue with the public”. Academic historians argue they present history “as it actually was” (enlightened historian Von Ranke). This is substantiated with their argument that they exclusively present history with full accuracy. It is this disagreement that enforces the considerable tension between academic and popular historians. Tension between academics and popular historians has been evident even during the initial stages of history; between Herodotus and Thucydides.

Curthoys and Docker elucidate that Herodotean was “part of the literary world”, whilst Thucydides was based on a “rigorous scrutiny of sources”. It is these two independent categories that fashion the meticulous argument to the extent to which history is fiction. Academic historians argue that their portrayal of history is accurate, and while the populist interpretation is not. Contrasting this argument, popular historians believe that while their interpretations may not convey history as completely factual, it is the only way for history to survive for later generations.

As British professor, Derek Matthews states, a “whole generation” are losing interest in the subject. It is only through websites such as ‘wikipedia’ and movies like Road to El-Dorado and Braveheart, that a contemporary audience can access, unintentionally, history. Other websites, such as ‘ancestry. com’, appeal to the growing ‘baby boomer’ generation who are, as Conrad state, “interested” in the “history of their family”. It is this division between the more inclusive history, and the less social history, that creates further separation between the academic and popular historians.

The struggle between those who support academics and those who favour populists, must also consider the mediums of communications they use. Academic historians utilise texts purely aimed at those who study the subjects. It is this reason that academics are slowly becoming less and less available to those who have, as European historian Nye states, the “inner craving” to learn about history. Contrasting this, as Conrad states “produces of historical films”, reach out to a wider audience. To which they able to effectively, as Conrad believes, communicate with their viewers.

This ability to do so, allows popular historians to fulfil their duty of, as traditionalist Elton states, “having his history read”. For example, the National Museum of Australia, takes a post modern approach to portraying history. The museum believes in a pastiche and populist pathway, in which the history of all people is displayed. Its interactive viewpoint allows this museum to convey history in a way that would be more accessible to its audience. For example, patrons are given the opportunity to record their own history. However, academics, such as Keith Windschuttle, assert that the NMA is a “profound intellectual waste”.

He argues that although it displays accurate history, it’s purpose of entertaining its audience detracts from its value, thus creating “waste”. Although Windschuttle’s view may be extreme, it demonstrates the considerable extent to which the tension between academic and popular historians exist. As the hostility grows between both parties, historians must consider the factual disposition of their writings. Empiricist J. B. Bury stated that history is a “science, nothing more, nothing less”. The accurate connotations that science brings highlights the academics arguments.

Although not completely a science, history integrates different forms of science, such as geology, in order to reach the objective truth (Evans). It is the assertion of history as a science to which academics believe their history is presented. To which, academic’s believe their rival’s representation of history is inaccurate, and therefore invalid. Academic historians insistence to their own superiority may contend to their tension between popular historians. The dissolution evident between popular history and academic history is further strained by their position in society.

Both academic and popular historians must consider their role with the community. As such, both have the commitment of interpreting history and portraying to their audience. Academic historians display history in a way that is considered outdated by many, and therefore disregarded. However, populist’s communicate their interpretations with a more dated view. Following, Michelle Arrow’s argument, historians must disregard their differences and focus on their primary responsibility. Their role in society helps individuals to understand the nature of the society in which they live.

By which, their message may become convoluted and confuse the, as Conrad states, “general public”. It is this primary aspect of their text that may dispel outside individuals from viewing their work, and therefore lessen those interested in history. This retrospective view may further emphasise the tension separating academic and popular historians. Although the divorce exists between popular history and academic historians, it is only through overlooking the flaws of both sides that they can ultimately achieve the main purpose of history: “having his history read”.

An historian, regardless of their pathway, must continue to conform to their societies expectations if they desire for history to be continued to be taught to future generations. It must be through moulding academic and popular history together that both sides can “focus” on “professionalism” and “generate a dialogue with the public” (Conrad). This must be done so that history may be continued to be taught to later generations to come.


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