Popular Front: Is Niall Ferguson a ‘proper’ historian?

“Anyone seeking an academic with “impact” should look no further than Niall Ferguson. His books and television series about the British Empire, its American successor and the bloody 20th century have been hugely popular. Whether they irritate, inform or entertain, they have certainly got people talking about big historical questions – and their relevance to today’s challenges.

Yet they have also led to a good deal of criticism from other scholars, on the grounds that Ferguson sacrifices depth to breadth and no longer quite counts as a “proper” historian. Much of this no doubt can be attributed to envy, snobbery or lack of sympathy for Ferguson’s robustly expressed political views. But perhaps it also reflects a sense that impact is all very well and good, provided it’s the right sort of impact.”

Love this bit:

“Ferguson’s popular works “have an impact because they reach millions of people”.

“Does that mean I have ceased to be a ‘proper’ historian? Only if you consider it improper to try to explain history to a mass audience. I have no time for people who think that academics should confine themselves to addressing their colleagues and students at elite universities. For the record, I have done and continue to do my share of academic work, publishing on average one article a year in a peer-reviewed journal. It’s possible to address – and have an impact on – both the scholarly community and the wider public.””

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