Several months ago I mentioned a book discussion that had I facilitated in which the author of the book showed up (it's item #18). The problem with this was that the author had written a history book about the Constitution and presented really old research that had been common knowledge for ages. At least, it was common knowlege among historians, not Constitutional attorneys.
Well, he wrote another book. Now, my college wants to bring him back to speak because someone saw him at some local event and thought that he had some "interesting new information on the subject." Somehow, I doubt it.
When I first wrote about this writer -- who, sadly, gets reviewed in the NYTimes instead of actual historians on the same subjects who write better and more original books -- I also complained of another "historian" who wrote a book about women's history that would have been out of date 20 years ago. Yet, everyone at our college went on and on about what fresh, new work she had done.
I bang my head at this not out of jealousy. I have no pretentions to the NYTimes or of being considered original and fresh. I bang my head at this because these are not trained historians. They are hailed as "fresh" because they have "archival research," as if "archival research" were some revolutionary activity. They don't acknowledge that many of their ideas are build upon a foundation of other people's work; or, if they do, those parts are cut out of the book.
I don't despise them personally, nor do I begrudge them the joy of writing or consider them the root of all evil. I do see that they serve a sort of function; but I still have a huge problem with a system that keeps the work of actual historians marginalized as "too academic" (not to mention the way that actual historians are supposed to be out of touch with the "real world" in the "ivory tower") while anyone with the time and independent wealth (which often buys time) ends up with best sellers and speaking engagements from books that churn out the same ole same ole as if it were original to that writer and new to the study of history.
At my school, I bang my head because, in a city with a gazillion universities and agencies that employ a gazillion more historians, educators who should know better are turning to non-historians to speak on historical subjects.
Then, I read the last line of the e-mail. This particular writer is a married to a county council woman. As in, this writer is married to one of the people who approves funding for the college.
It all makes sense, now!