Academic History vs. Popular History

A historian’s duty is to ‘breathe’ life into the past. To do this, historians expose individuals to a unique perspective of historical events. When looking at history, people need to be aware of and able to differentiate between academic history and popular history.

Academic histories are tailored to professors of history and to their university students at an undergraduate and graduate level. Therefore, an academic history should be written by a specialist in that field of study. For example, a professor with a PhD in history, that specialized in the Women’s Suffrage, would be considered a quality source on this topic. To be seen as a quality academic source, the work should be reviewed or edited by peers in that field. In contrast, popular history does not necessarily have to be reviewed or edited by peers.

Consequently, popular history is considered to be different from academic history because popular history is trying to reach a ‘non-academic’ audience; popular history is written to be clear and conscious without the typical jargon found in academic history. Those who read and write popular history have different goals compared to those associated with academic history. Their main goal includes reading and writing for amusement.

In order to differentiate the two, there are steps that an individual can take that involves doing a ‘background check’ on the author. By looking into the author’s credentials, one may determine if it is a professor with a PhD writing to educate, or a teen-fiction author writing to tell a story. The second step includes looking at a bibliography. If there is no bibliography, chances are it is popular history. If there is a bibliography with numerous sources,  it is most likely considered academic history. 

In reading and writing history, these standards matter; history is not a black and white image, it is quite the opposite. History is made up of millions of abstract images. By having standards, historians ensure that groups of people are not lost in the chaos, and that their complete stories are told without added interpretations or opinions.

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