Popular history  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Popular history is a broad and somewhat ill-defined genre of historiography that takes a popular approach, aims at a wide readership, and usually emphasizes narrative, personality and vivid detail over scholarly analysis. The term is used in contradistinction to professional academic or scholarly history writing which is usually more specialized and technical and, thus, less accessible to the general reader.

Some popular historians are without academic affiliation while others are academics, or former academics, that have (according to one writer) "become somehow abstracted from the academic arena, becoming cultural commentators". Many worked as journalists, perhaps after taking an initial degree in history.

Popular historians may become nationally renowned or best-selling authors and may or may not serve the interests of particular political viewpoints in their roles as "public historians". Many authors of "official histories" and "authorized biographies" would qualify as popular historians serving the interests of particular institutions or public figures.

Popular historians aim to appear on the "general lists" of general publishers, rather than the university presses that have dominated academic publishing in recent years. Increasingly, popular historians have taken to television where they are able, often accompanying a series of documentaries with a tie-in book.


Recent examples of American popular historians with academic affiliations include Stephen E. Ambrose, Doris Kearns Goodwin and Pauline Maier. Non-academics include Walter Lord, Bruce Catton, Shelby Foote, David McCullough, Daniel J. Boorstin and Barbara W. Tuchman.

Recent examples of British popular historians who are also academics include Niall Ferguson, Christopher Hibbert and Simon Schama, and – from a previous generation – Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Johnson, E. P. Thompson, A. J. P. Taylor (an early pioneer of history on television) and Christopher Hill. Much of Hugh Trevor-Roper's output was also directed at a popular audience.

John Julius Norwich, Nirad Chaudhuri, Ramchandra Guha, Charles Allen, Rutger Bregman, Tariq Ali, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson are popular historians who have never been academics.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Popular history" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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