Improving Livius.org

The study of history is not just a story based on sources. A scholar is able to explain why he does what he does; awareness of methodological problems is the difference between a professional and a dilettante. Explaining this is of the greatest importance, because there are two disturbing developments.

  1. An increasing number of people has received a higher education, and is capable of recognizing the errors made by professional scholars, who are increasingly specialized and are often insufficiently aware of developments outside their specialism.
  2. On internet, people select the information they like – and this is usually bad information, because bad information drives out good.
The first development causes scepticism, while the second allows it to flourish. We must, therefore, explain our methods: philogical, exegetical, archaeological, historical. In this way, people will understand why information offered by professional scholars is better than other kinds of information.

Although it has, since about 2005, been generally recognized that websites like Livius.org and books for a larger audience must not just present the facts but should explain method as well, no satisfying way to explain method has been found so far. However, we can at least try to create awareness that history is a serious discipline. I have put online some articles on methodological and related topics:

Comments are welcome.

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2 Responses to Improving Livius.org

  1. J de Jong says:

    One of the advantages for the amateur over the academic is that she is willing to spend more time convincing lay people of her point of view. There is no professional reward for an academic to proselytise, on the contrary, it limits the time she can spend on publishing (and teaching).

    Engaging lay people also doesn’t give you moral credits with colleagues. Some will even look down on you for lowering academic standards or talking to the press.

    So the only reason academics engage the outside world is out of conviction. There are rewards in that interaction, of course.

    Another advantage for the amateur is that by ignoring method, she can focus on the story. And why let facts or doubts stand in the way of a good story?

    So I think your efforts should be focused on the story first and on transmitting your enthusiasm.

    One way to do this, might be to make the method the story. Present it as a mystery. Become a detective, with a forensics lab, and embark on an adventurous journey to uncover the truth. Present contemporary sources as witnesses, with their own motives to hide or distort the truth. Set a meeting with all those involved and expose the murderer in a dramatic finale.

    Another: debate and controversy

  2. Robert Pascoe says:

    Dear Jona

    I think your site is great as it is. I have acknowledged it in my World History textbooks. Do you want me to post you copies of them (2 volumes)? Rob

    Robert Pascoe

    Dean Laureate and Professor of History

    College of Arts

    Victoria University, Melbourne

    Author of World History, 2013, 2 vols

    available from connorcourt.com.au

    ________________________________

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