Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Diverse Lot of Historians

I am sorry that I have been unable to post for the last few days, but I have been doing a significant amount of traveling to locate a new residence. I have accepted a position with the Kentucky Historical Society and will be making the 500 mile move within the next week.

Is there a need for such a significant level of specialization that exists within the ranks of historians today? That is a good question, and one that often used to come to my mind when watching programs like the History Channel or Book-TV on C-SPAN. These programs always have recognized scholars providing narrative background or opinionated information to supplement the programming. And almost always these historians are known to be a "specialist" in their field. Obviously, you probably wouldn't want a specialist in Medieval history giving commentary on the Civil Rights Movement and vise-versa; but, is this specialization into such seemingly limited areas of expertise necessary?

In a graduate school class popularly called "Research and Bibliography," our professor had a number of his department colleagues come in and discuss their area of specialization. We heard from a women's historian, a Latin American historian, a classics historian, a public historian, an African historian, a labor historian, and an intellectual historian, if my memory serves me correctly. There are also many other types of historians; in American history alone there are: Early American, Jacksonian, military, and Gilded Age historians, just to name a few. At the time I took this course I though this specialization may be a little overkill. But, as my graduate career continued, and as I found out how much one can learn about their specific field,and how much research work is being done in each specialized field, I changed my opinion.

Of course, not everyone has interests in every field of history. For example, I don't find Early Modern European history to be particularly fascinating, but there are students that do. And, some students think that the Civil War gets too much attention for being only a four year period. Although I think that the last statement is very short-sighted, they are entitled to their opinion and own interests. Therefore, I think that specialization within the field of history is a good thing. After all, if we all focused solely on one topic, instead of exploring diverse topics and then sharing information, how much of a well-rounded education would we receive, and how much beneficial knowledge would be still unknown?

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