How do historians write about the people, places, and events they’ve studied in historical sources?
We continue our Doing History: How Historians Work series by investigating how historians write about history. Our guide for this investigation is John Demos, the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and an award-winning historian.
About the Series
Doing History episodes will introduce you to historians who will tell you what they know about the past and reveal how they came to their knowledge.
Each episode will air on the last Tuesday of each month in 2016.
This series is part of a partnership between Ben Franklin’s World and the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
In this episode, we explore how historians write about history with John Demos, the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and an award-winning historian.
During our conversation, John reveals what the new social and new narrative schools of history are and what it’s like to write about history in those genres; How John decides whether he should write a book about his research topics; And, how John approaches writing and has developed his writing skills over time.
What You’ll Discover
- John’s love of writing and how he became a historian
- New social history
- New narrative history
- John’s 3 dimensions of historical study: 1. Particular 2. General 3. Generic
- The importance of people in historical writing
- Details about the “heathen school” in Cornwall, Connecticut (1817-1826)
- How John decides whether his research topic is a book
- John’s writing process
- How John knows when to stop conducting research
- Mistakes John has made in his writing
- How to weave historical analysis into a compelling narrative
- How John developed his writer’s voice
- How historians balance a desire to do justice to the past with their position as human beings in the 21st century
- How John tries to maintain objectivity when he writes about history
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- John Demos
- Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
- The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America
- The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
- Aaron Sachs
- Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
- The New Yorker
- John’s Potosi article for Common-place
- Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture
- OI Fellowships
- OI’s vision of a Vast Early America
- Doing History series
- How Historians Write PDF
- Episode 008: Greg O'Malley, Final Passages: The Intercolonial Slave Trade of British America
- Episode 016: Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy
- Episode 064: Brett Rushforth, Native American Slavery in New France
- Episode 099: Mark Hanna: Pirates & Pirates Nests in the British Atlantic World
Time Warp Question
In your opinion, how will the historians research and write about our present day given the huge volume of emails, tweets, and other internet communications we engage in? How will they use this type of digital evidence to write the historical narratives of the future?
Questions, Comments, Suggestions
Do you have a question, comment, or suggestion?
Get in Touch! Send me an e-mail, tweet, or leave a comment.
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