Prompt: Professionalization of history–how are popular and academic histories different, and why are those differences significant? Why don’t they always align?

Popular history is history directed more at the general public. It is more oriented at “telling the story” of a nation, people, etc. without too much focus on analysis, tension, and debate. This form of history leans more towards consensus history in that it tended to focus on creating a unified narrative and often excluding minority groups; it was also often written by amateur historians – i.e; those that did not study history at a university. It continues to this day, but often has periods when it rises into popularity such as just after the American Revolution, and during the Cold War.

Academic history, in contrast, is intended to be history studied and analyzed by degreed historians; a form of history that focuses on the facts and the evidence from data, primary and secondary resources, and that seeks to avoid or limit personal bias and to engage multiple perspectives. This idea of history as an “objective science” began to develop in the late 1800s and continues to this day, although, the areas of study and perspectives examined have widened considerably. Academic historians work to have their research published often through academic journals and to meet the standards of the American Historical Association.

Although academic history is intended to be more objective, it too can have – and has had- difficulties with historians focusing more on consensus history. Additionally, academic historians still encounter the same biases and personal intentions that an amateur historian may encounter, they just ideally should have the skills and training to better acknowledge and work around them. Academic and Popular history don’t always align often because some academic research challenges that status quo and the narrative that the general public was raised on and or taught. For example, in the United States, sometimes research and a greater focus on things such as slavery, the problems with the American constitution, past atrocities, etc. result in a backlash from writers of popular history because it may upset the glorified ideas of our nation’s history. Moreover, the ideas and stories that popular history writers convey to the general public may provide very one-sided views on a particular subject and or topic that undermines the research and publications of academic historians attempting to bring a greater voice and agency to marginalized groups from the past.