"Popular" scholarship or popular "scholarship"?
Posted 29 August 2009 - 06:28 PM
It is a terrific book—Wells writes beautifully with a ready wit and easy turn of phrase. The mantle of learning sits lightly on his shoulders. In the review McCrum’s reference to popular scholarship doesn’t seem denigrating or slighting in the least although I have a feeling it often might be. Is “popular” scholarship, meant for an interested non-academic audience generally thought to be of lesser quality than “real” scholarship? Or is it considered a form of literary journalism--not much of which survives in the United States—popularizing and therefore simplifying the hard work done by academics?
In other words, is it a backhanded compliment, should it be always read with an unwritten but assumed “only” in front of it?
Wondering what the eclectic group of readers here might think.
Posted 07 April 2010 - 03:16 PM
I wouldn’t say that simplification in the bad sense of the word is an inevitable result, although it does happen.
Posted 07 April 2010 - 04:04 PM
I've gotten the little I know of Biblical history from Isaac Azimov, although I'm not sure of what his reputation is among historians.
Then there are things like Nancy Mitford's popularized books on Mme. de Pompadour and others. Art historians tend to think these, and various things by Princess Michael of Kent and maybe even Olivier Bernier's Louis XIV books (or rather, I've gathered that they do, even though both give Met lectures, along with Geza Von Habsburg, who I think is thought to be a serious Faberge specialist) less lofty than Leo Steinberg, William Vincent Harris, or Anthony Blunt, but that's natural. They know the basics, and have probably often seen the photos in the beautiful coffee table books in their real-life incarnations. The professionals can be tiresome about this, because although it's normal for them to want to read texts that are more and more specialized, the tendency is unnecessarily snooty sometimes, as if non-philosophers or amateur historians are allowed to ask a question in these fields only for the pleasure the professionals get in mocking them (I've seen a lot of this.)
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