Two weeks ago I recorded an interview with Ed Ayers for a segment of BackStory With the History Guys. It’s one of my favorite podcast shows and I was honored to be a guest. Our conversation took as its starting point a recent post that featured a list of the top selling history books from 2014. I offered a few observations about what this list tells us about consumers of history.
Much of our conversation did not make it into the final edited show. Ayers expressed some concern that no academics appeared on the list. I have to say that I’ve grown weary of this concern. As far as I can tell the only people who worry about it are academics. There are different ways to try to understand the past and the approach embraced by academics, including an emphasis on analytical rigor and theory, is a relatively recent approach. People have been thinking about and writing about history for thousands of years. The academy does not get to define what is and what is not history.
The overall point that I tried to make in response is that academic historians have never been in a better position to compete for the attention of consumers of history. Sure, they may not reach the kinds of numbers that appear on the list, but there is plenty of opportunity to build an audience and build interest even in the most academic of historical subjects. There are a number of professional historians who are doing just that.
Get to work.