Errors in students’ exam answers have attracted wry reflection on the pages of Times Higher Education recently. However, they are as nothing compared with the misleading character of all too many of the pithy commendations that appear on the back of academic books.
In the case of my subject, history, there is a particular problem as books are so often presented as “definitive” when, of course, the inherent nature of the subject denies such characterisation. As an academic discipline, history is an accretional subject in which we benefit from, and contribute to, the work of others, knowing that our own work will be absorbed, built on and superseded in the same process.
That, of course, will not do for the vanity of some authors, the exigencies of publicists and far too many blurb writers. If you say a book is good and builds ably on existing views, you are apt to find your blurb edited or dropped in favour of those who will say that the work is “definitive”, “outstanding” or “transformative”.
At every stage there is the argument by assertion in pushing works. Take, for example, an interesting and well-written recent biography of George II. This work is a competent and fluent contribution to a large body of literature by many scholars over the past four decades that has argued for the importance of the king. That, however, in the hands of blurb writers becomes “a groundbreaking study of a neglected monarch…a fundamental reappraisal…? the definitive biography…a watershed in our knowledge and understanding of Hanoverian England”.
Read full story…. and we should be thinking about what will be picked up by search engines, and the overflow of information… be ‘accurate’ about your work, and I’ll maybe come back for more…
Dr Bex Lewis is passionate about helping people engage with the digital world in a positive way, where she has more than 20 years’ experience. She is Senior Lecturer in Digital Marketing at Manchester Metropolitan University and Visiting Research Fellow at St John’s College, Durham University, with a particular interest in digital culture, persuasion and attitudinal change, especially how this affects the third sector, including faith organisations, and, after her breast cancer diagnosis in 2017, has started to research social media and cancer. Trained as a mass communications historian, she has written the original history of the poster Keep Calm and Carry On: The Truth Behind the Poster (Imperial War Museum, 2017), drawing upon her PhD research. She is Director of social media consultancy Digital Fingerprint, and author of Raising Children in a Digital Age: Enjoying the Best, Avoiding the Worst (Lion Hudson, 2014) as well as a number of book chapters, and regularly judges digital awards. She has a strong media presence, with her expertise featured in a wide range of publications and programmes, including national, international and specialist TV, radio and press, and can be found all over social media, typically as @drbexl.