J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

First New England History Festival, 24 Nov 2007

On the evening of Saturday, 24 November 2007, the first New England History Festival will take place at the Hibernian Hall in Watertown, Massachusetts. It looks like organizers are trying to create a forum for non-academic historians and researchers to share their work with each other and the public.

Among the scheduled topics pertinent to Revolutionary New England:

  • Bill Rose, speaking in the uniform of a French admiral about “Why We Don’t Speak French – Salt Water in the American Revolution.”
  • John Horrigan, the event’s producer, on 29 May 1780, “New England’s Dark Day,” and other meteorological anomalies.
  • D. Michael Ryan, a Park Ranger at Minute Man National Historical Park, signing his new book Concord and the Dawn of Revolution: The Hidden Truths.
In addition to the talks and displays, the organizers promise “trivia, exhibits, concessions, prizes, souvenirs.” The admission is $5.00 for the public, but free for students, senior citizens, and historical society members. The event starts at 6:00 P.M. and runs until 10:00.

Comics Week at Boston 1775 resumes this weekend.


Wm. E. Reuben said...

Isn't a "non-academic historian" nothing more than a story-teller? It just kind of seems like common sense that historians are also academic.

J. L. Bell said...

Historians outside academia aren’t necessarily just telling stories. Many get deep into primary-source research, and some into interesting analysis. I’ve seen Mike Ryan’s book about Concord, and I think it contains solid work, not just retellings of familiar dramatic stories.

There are also “public historians” who work at museums, historic sites, historical societies, etc. That seems to be a growing field; UMass has a graduate program in it.

I agree that in general amateur historians do put more emphasis on narrative history, especially the history of events that already interest the public at some level, than academic historians do. And that’s nonfiction storytelling.

Partly I think that’s because those folks get interested in the narratives. And partly it’s a matter of finding and pleasing an audience, particularly if any of their income depends on the reception of what they write or present. For most academics, writing and public speaking outside the university is supplemental income at best, so.