More Form and Function, Objectives and Audience
Just to be clear, I am not saying that “professional” historian is synonymous with “academic” or “Ph.D” possessing historian. To echo Brooks (I think), the most simple way of determining whether one is a professional historian is to ask, is it your job? Far more people answer this question in the affirmative than the Ph.D. possessors (or is it possessed?). Brooks mentions Ed Bearss, but there are also such current NPS historians as John Hennessy, Chris Calkins, Jeff Patrick, and Ted Alexander. Anyone who does not consider these folks professional historians either is ignorant of what they do or truly out to lunch. Will Greene at Pamplin Park, Richard Sommers and Art Bergeron at Carlisle, and John Coski at the Museum of the Confederacy are some other examples of professional historians who are not teaching at a college or university. So does that make Billy Bob collecting bayonets in his basement with an eye on making money off them a professional historian? If not, then, what is the separator? I believe that is the common thread to what professional historians do, and that is the public service component. (Man, now I am starting to sound like Samuel Huntington; must be the whole clash of civilizations undertone.) It is John, Ed, Chris, Jeff, etc.’s job to study the past and then take what they have gleaned from their study and make it accessible to the public audience at their institutions. This is the same basic task a college or university professor undertakes in his job, albeit in different forms. A college professor uses a lecture or seminar to educate; the folks above use an exhibit, archives, or battlefield tour. Where does writing fit into this? I’ll try to figure out my thoughts on this over the weekend.