In reviewing Shelby Foote’s The Civil War , Geoffrey Ward has with some directness made a protest against the arrogance of the professional historiographers and proceeds to make the point that even a lowly novelist can, in fact, provide a “narrative that convinces as it compels, filled with vivid scenes.”
For the last two years I have been researching and writing on World War I, and time after time I encounter the comments of the tenured historiographers who, exactly as phrased by Mr. Ward, dismiss some great and educational books because they are based on published works rather than on paging through twenty years of some obscure journal. The impression is given that they have a great fear that some talented nonprofessional might creep unwashed and unblessed into public recognition.
A forerunner to Mr. Foote is Laurence Stallings, who, by the time he wrote The Doughboys in 1963, was feeling a bit testy about his lack of acceptance as a historian. In his prologue he wrote, “I have avoided, too, as much as possible, the traits of the professional historians, who would instantly recognize me for an armchair impostor.…”
I thank Mr. Ward for speaking out in your prestigious pages. With his help, the armchair impostors may avoid extermination and continue to publish excellent history.