Citations are a complete pain. While the basic citations like books and articles are fairly easy, when you get the third translation of an edited essay in a book that was referenced in an online periodical via a database search the citations get a little complicated. I understand why citations are done: they are necessary in an academic field. Proper citations ensure that the credit for the research and ideas is going to the right person. The citations have to be so precise so the information can easily be located and verified in the case of someone trying to look it up. Different citations arise because different subjects are concerned with different sources. A psychology student likely wouldn’t have to cite artifacts like a history student would, so APA goes easier on those citations than Chicago would. Chicago is the most annoying citation style that I have ever used. APA and MLA provide the rules for citation in a simple and concise way. The Chicago style requires a law degree and 3 hours of free time to decipher. Chicago seems to have a little more difficulty with the non-written citations. I have had a little more difficulty looking for a possible citation for a movie that I am considering citing.
The first thing that I need to say is that I generally am against most kinds of technology when it comes to things that can be done without the use of computers and the like. However, for historians the use of digital resources brings about amazing possibilities. The biggest benefit, in my opinion, is the scanning of very old documents. Without these documents being put into a digital database, many people would never get the chance to view these historical artifacts. Nowadays, I can view journals and letters from colonial eras that I never would have been able to even see at times in the past. It also makes the presentation and communication of findings much more accessible. Technology expands the reach of an individual and thanks to digital resources, I can read about the discoveries of Chinese or Russian or Egyptian historians that would be out of my reach in different times. In reference to other professionals, I feel that technology has done the same sort of things for most people. It increases the reach of people and gives greater access to certain information.
I believe that the newer fields (women’s/gender, ethnohistory, social/cultural, and environmental) are fields that narrow down the scope of scholarship in history. Personally, I put them at the same level as the traditional fields. No field is more important in history than another. Traditional fields may be used more often, but good, solid history can just as easily come from sports history than from political history. The newer fields have little research done in them compared to traditional fields and can be slightly more difficult to connect to topics. However, they can also provide more in depth knowledge on their specific topic. My personal favorite is environmental history.
I find myself more interested with the newer fields of history, most specifically environmental. The traditional fields of military, political, and economic history are incredibly useful, though personally (this is mostly on my part) I find them very boring. The traditional fields are incredibly large and can encompass a lot of information and connect to just about anything. By focusing on the traditional fields, a historian can learn quite a lot about the subject that they are studying. However, by being incredibly broad, they are also prone to not focusing enough on the details. Historians can expand on these fields because they connect to everything so well. By going off of connections that can be made, the scope of what a person is looking at can increase and offer new scholarship to the debate.
The first thing that comes to mind when looking at Parkman and Jennings is the fact that they lived in entirely different times. Francis Parkman preceded Francis Jennings by approximately 100 years, putting their historical context at the forefront of any comparison of the two historians.
Parkman lived in the 1800s in an era of secession and expansion. Though Parkman never truly put his historical focus on the American Civil War, the fact that the nation that he loved was being torn apart from the inside pushed him to put all of his effort into his work on colonial America. Interestingly to me, Parkman never touched the American Revolution, which makes it seem like the outcome of the war was never in question, and the Anglo-Saxon dominance of the French & Indian War would unquestionably continue in North America. Parkman’s writings were incredibly American-centric and at a time where there was a lot of problems with the idea of America, this was probably quite welcome. In response to Parkman’s clear racism and bias against the Native Americans, one can look at the historical context that Parkman lived in.The 1800s saw expansion across the North American continent thanks to the idea of Manifest Destiny. The Native Americans at the time were an obstacle that stood in the way of progress, and one surefire way to rid yourself of an obstacle is to turn them into monsters and let the public do the rest. By writing about the Native Americans as savages and cannibals, Parkman successfully fired up the ire of the American people. However, the things that he wrote about the native populations weren’t exactly true, which brings us to Francis Jennings.
Unlike Parkman, Jennings wrote about all of the ugly truths of the American history. Jennings denounced Parkman’s works as being unreliable and often, just made up. Jennings lived and wrote in the 20th century, passing away near the turn of the millennium. Jennings grew up through the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean and Vietnam Wars, The Cold War, the Civil Rights Movements, and many other historical events that didn’t quite leave a positive impression on the world. Unlike Parkman, Jennings wrote to correct the unreal views of history. Jennings saw a lot of bad things in his life, but also a lot of good things. Living closer to the modern times, Jennings wrote from more of a fair viewpoint. He didn’t have any desire to put any groups down or artificially raise others.
As a prelude to researching these historians, I looked at Wikipedia to check their sources and was surprised at what I found. Parkman had a fair amount of information on his Wikipedia page but the entirety of Jennings career was summed up in one or two sentences.
At the beginning of this post I am going to write a general disclaimer that I believe that academic history is like communism; a great idea on paper, but nearly impossible to actually do in real life. I believe this because there will always be some sort of bias in the writing of the historian. Academic history, to me, is supposed to tell history exactly how it happened. Popular history is more of a story that is being told to entertain and bolster the moral of the intended audience. For example, as we discussed, the history of the early United States was not entirely true, but it was written for a purpose. It was written to be the glue that held the developing nature together. This shows the positive aspect of popular history. One of the negative impacts is that it isn’t true and could be viewed negatively by a certain group. Academic history would be simply facts that could absolutely not be disputed. Is this even possible? I don’t think so. The only way that I can think of something being indisputable is if you were there and saw it happen (something along those lines, you get the idea). Popular history is written by a person or persons that has a much smaller audience than academic history. Both have their ups and downs, their appeals and their degrees of professionalism. Either way, history is in the eye of the beholder and is written by the victor so we really have no idea what history is, do we?
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