What are the negatives of writing history?
1. The author will never die rich.
While it is highly unlikely I will die wealthy, I have become all the more enriched because I have explored a topic simply because it intrigues me and because it might sell well. Civil War history is one of those areas which has a devoted following. Generally, anything about generals, and Gettysburg will sell. But many of the Civil War authors I know, generally (pun intended) explore a particular niche which fascinates them because it FASCINATES them.
2. It’s boring.
No problem. If you do not like history, do not read it unless you are forced to, like in a high school or college course.
3. It’s about old dead people. Who cares?
You had better, because one day you will be a dead person who decades later will be a very old dead person. No one wants to die forgotten and alone, despite their protestations to the contrary. From a negative perspective why do criminals love to read newspaper articles or media coverage of their escapades?
From a more positive aspect, historians preserve the past to, hopefully, provide us with a better future. While I might be kicking against the goads and be rather pessimistic, the historian in me honestly believes that without a knowledge of the past we would not have those rare, magnetic individuals who spend their lives trying to improve the lives of the people around them.
4. There’s nothing new to learn. It’s all been done before.
The egotist in me just cannot accept that premise. While human nature never changes, and wars, turmoil and troubles will always plague us, researching history gives me a chance to explore and expand my knowledge base. New primary material constantly resurfaces to provide a more honest picture of what has gone before.
John Toland, one of my favorite popular historians, allegedly, once said – in paraphrase -that the topic he was writing about had not been written about until he wrote it. And, I believe that is true. I research topics because I want to learn about them. I do it to learn what I did not know and write to inform others who might not have known about the material, either. If it is “new” to me then it is “new.”
5. Why do you care? Life is happening now.
I care because no one should ever be forgotten, good or bad. I care because I want to leave a legacy for my children and grandchildren in which they can take pride. I care because, as it is written “a people without a vision will perish.”
Deep inside, historians know that people matter, and that life has a purpose. They know that honest history – warts and all – helps us deal with the problems and challenges which we face today. It also allows us to preserve the memories of those few, noble and selfless individuals, who despite their personal flaws, positively touched someone’s life for the better.
P.S.: by way of shameless self promotion, my article in No. 52 of Gettysburg Magazine is downloadable at this site.