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Anti-Intellectualism

I was at a barbecue and someone asked me what my thesis was about. So I told her.

"Oh!" she said. "Usually people say: 'you wouldn't understand.'"

This surprised me.

To put it bluntly, Military History is not Rocket Science. And Logistics is mostly common sense. True, common sense isn't all that common these days. And the military do have a jargon all their own that not everybody is familiar with. But my intention is that the New Thesis, like the Old, shall be simple enough for anyone with an eighth grade education to read. Jargon shall be weeded out and abbreviations, except for the most simple, will be avoided. There'll also be a list of abbreviations, a glossary and an explanatory appendix on weights and measures. Obviously, not everyone will want to read about logistics. But should be able to.

If historians cannot be widely read, then the utility of history disappears and we're just another bunch of ivory tower dwellers.

On the weekend, there was some debate in the paper between Dr Peter Stanley, Principal Historian at the War Memorial, and Dr Michael McKernan, who used to be the Deputy Director at the War Memorial before er let's not go into that. They were arguing about whether history books should be written by historians or journalists. Let's leave aside the fact that "journalist" has become a slur in this country, like "communist" used to be.

Peter Stanley, recently railed in print about publishers "choosing journalists who know nothing over historians who know their subjects". Both men felt that journalists tend to write history that is popular, shallow, uncritical and lacking in analysis but McKernan felt that this is necessary to instruct the popular reader if historians are dry, turgid and noncommittal.

Well, I intend to be both analytical and readable.

You may quote me.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
communicator
26th Apr, 2005 02:46 (UTC)
Usually people say: 'you wouldn't understand'

grrr... that makes me think they don't understand themselves. If gfk88 can explain his thesis in pure maths to a bunch of people in the pub, I think any academic can have a stab at outlining his research.

I intend to be both analytical and readable.

Should be good.
kerravonsen
26th Apr, 2005 03:24 (UTC)
"Oh!" she said. "Usually people say: 'you wouldn't understand.'"

This surprised me.


I'm surprised that you're surprised.
Theses are generally about some narrow bit of a field that few people have written about. A thesis writer is steeped in the field. Initially they may explain enthusiastically about what they are doing, but get enough eyes-glazed-over reactions and they stop bothering. And it isn't entirely their fault -- I have to say this because in computing I get this sort of reaction:

"What do you do?"
"I'm a computer programmer."
"Oh, I don't know anything about computers."

End of conversation. The person doesn't know and doesn't want to know.

On the other hand, she could also be the victim of sexism -- that the people she's talked to have just assumed that she wouldn't understand because she's a woman. Grrr.
hawkeye7
26th Apr, 2005 14:54 (UTC)
"I'm a computer programmer."
"Oh, I don't know anything about computers."


I get this too. But when my dad says that he repairs trucks, nobody ever says that they don't know anything about trucks.

Nor, for that matter, do people say that they don't know anything about logistics, although some of them immediately have to ask what logistics is. (Many people also have the misconception that I am writing about production and purchasing of stores and materials in Australia.)
( 3 comments — Leave a comment )