A Rose by Any Other Name

23 01 2008

I have in my life taken aspirin when I’ve had a headache.  I have installed new copper plumbing throughout a two story house.  I have offered opinions on the legality of certain actions when asked.  However, I’m not a doctor.  I’m not a plumber.  And I’m not a lawyer.

You may have noticed that on this blog I’ve referred to individuals as historians.  I’ve referred to some as “historians”.  I’ve referred to others as herodotus.jpgwriters, and to others as chroniclers.  There’s a reason for that.  I have a rule.  It’s my rule, and not necessarily yours.  But since you’re reading my blog, you should know what my rules are.

In order for someone to be referred to as a (yes, for the 100 millionth time, it’s “a”, check your style manual!) historian by me, they must have earned an advanced degree – at least a master’s degree – in history.  That’s pretty simple.  There are no exceptions.  None.  Nada.

Whether or not I refer to someone as a historian has nothing to do with the quality or quantity of his or her work in the field of history.  It’s simply recognition of their membership in the profession: a profession that, like others, has requirements for membership (educational requirements, peer review requirements, ethical requirements).  It’s out of respect for the profession and for those individuals who have satisfied the minimum requirements for membership – requirements that I, at this late stage, will never satisfy – that I don’t throw the word historian around loosely.  There are good and bad doctors, plumbers, lawyers, and historians out there, but that does not change the fact that they are who and what they are.  And I yam what I yam, whatever that is.

Don’t get upset if I don’t refer to you or to someone you admire as a historian when you or they don’t meet my requirements.  If it makes you feel any better, the guy in the picture doesn’t meet them either.  But feel free to let me know when I make a mistake. 

I got the picture of Herodotus from this site – no, I can’t read a word of it.

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10 responses

23 01 2008
Mannie Gentile

For the moment, I prefer to be called a hysterian, or perhaps, simply, a wiseacre.

This is subject to change.



23 01 2008
Harry Smeltzer

I’ll go with the latter, for both of us.


23 01 2008
Steve Basic

I was gonna go with CW BS Artist, but I do come up with some valid points every now and then. :)


24 01 2008
Rick Allen

Harry, a million ‘thank you’s’ for your comment on “an/a” historian. You know how prone I am to bouts of madness and nothing will set off the trigger like the term…” an Historian..”….drives me totally bonkers.

And I can live with your definition of ‘Historian’ too, but if Steve gets to be a ‘CW BS Artist’, I want to be a ‘Standup Philosopher.’

Btw, I like this site! Good job.

Rick Allen


24 01 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Hey Rick, good to hear from you.

So far, Mannie’s second label seems fitting for everyone who has commented on this post…

Hope to see you soon – in the meantime, check back often!


26 01 2008


While I’m probably more of a hysterian myself, I’m glad to finally provide a working definition of historian that I am comfortable and can live with. It did draw one question, though — where does this leave all of the folks who completed undergrad studies in history? Are they (hmm, we) considered still embryonic and not yet anything, like lawyers before law school? “Pre-history” like pre-law and pre-med folks?

Maybe I answered my own question, I kind of like that….


27 01 2008
Harry Smeltzer

Yes, Don. I believe that makes you pre-historic. Ba-da-BING!

Thanks, folks – you’ve been a great audience. I’ll be here all week.


28 01 2008
Dueling Blowhards « Bull Runnings

[…] for all the nice emails about my posts on historians and Civil War blogs.  I appreciate them […]


3 06 2008
Mark Grimsley on the Impetus for the Advance on Manassas « Bull Runnings

[…] by that rarest of birds in Civil War literature, an honest to God military historian – see here for what I mean by […]


25 06 2008
Society of (Mostly) Civil War Historians Part I « Bull Runnings

[…] more than a handful of similarly unlettered folks like me among the 200 or so in attendance (see here for my definition of a historian).  I was a fish out of […]


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