Friday, May 10, 2024

The austere passion of the historian

Still catching up on my reading, I was delighted to find in the May 2024 Literary Review of Canada a thoughtful letter by Robert Girvan of Toronto about my Cundill books review from the Jan/Feb 2024 issue.  Reader engagement -- always appreciated!

And this is not the thumbs-up/thumbs-down sort of response. Robert Girvan engages at length with my observations (find his letter at the foot of the article) about what one might call the personal turn in academic writing -- substantial scholarly books in which the personal interests and commitments of the author become an integral part of the writing, rather than something to be sussed out from their acknowledgments and endnotes. 

He offers valuable caution about "overly personal involvement with one's subject" in historical work. I resist his description of one of the reviewed books as "wondrous fiction," but his arguments against agenda-driven history deserves attention. And he provides a great quotation about "the historian, with the austere passion for fact, proof, evidence, which are central to his [sic] vocation...." 

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