Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

To be a Great War student


alex falbo
 Share

Recommended Posts

This question is directed at the pals, writers and teachers on the forum.

What does it take to be a real student of the Great War? I'm interested in hearing what your qualifications would be.

What seperates the experts and specialists from the amateur in your opinion.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

What seperates the experts and specialists from the amateur in your opinion.

When you write "amateur" do you mean it in the usual sense of someone not being paid (in which case, you have your answer) or as a description for someone not expert and/or specialist?

Assuming the latter, then it can be boiled down to knowledge. Qualification is irrelevent. Past study, the absorbtion of information, the ability and willingness to share the knowledge all contribute to the belief that someone is an expert or specialist. The real answer though is the expert or specialist is the one person to come forward and give you the right answer to your question.

Some years ago, before I retired, I recall being in a meeting when we were discussing whether we should have a project undertaken by in-house staff who knew some of what's what or whether we should employ a firm of experts. One of my colleagues nodded towards me and said to the meeting "John, here, is an expert on the Battle of Rourke's Drift". Needless to say, everyone looked at me, while I looked at my colleague with that look that said "what the f..k you on about?"

He went on to explain that an expert is someone who simply has more knowledge than most people. In his example, most folk will know nothing about Rouke's Drift. Some people will have seen the film "Zulu" and this will have given them far greater knowledge than most people. He went on to say that he knew I had read an actual historical account of the Battle and, therefore, knew far, far more than the vast majority of the population. I was an expert.

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

by being on here I feal we are all students of the Great War, we all have a desire to learn. If we did not want to know more we would not post or answer posts of others.

As for professional /amater that i think is totally different

to be an historial, i personally feel (and plenty of my friends disagree) that you need a degree in history or a similar topic. you are not a geographer/nurse/doctor/lawer ect ect just because you have an interest in the subject

However i have to say there are plenty of peole who have written some fantastic stuff on local regiments ect that have no historical qualification, are they not historians to?

Is it someone who makes a living out of history? but how many of us are lucky enough to be able to say this?

I think its a bit of a grey area, with other professions and qaulifications less so, but history?

for me i'm unsure

interesting to see what others think

matt

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like John, I think the question you've asked is too vague, under the circumstances. There's a world of difference between an academic and an enthusiast but either may be an expert in a certain aspect of a subject. A formal qualification does not mean that the holder has a breadth of knowledge. In fact, the reverse is usually true and it can be best described as "the more you study the more you know about less until you know everything there is to know about absolutely nothing." As someone with a PhD, I can say that having a piece of paper only means that you have the ability to study. It says nothing about the common sense of the owner - the absent-minded professor is not entirely a work of fiction!

The wonderful thing about a resource like this one is that you have a broad range of people with a broad range of interests and knowledge that they're more than happy to share. The required qualifications are only, in my opinion, the wish to learn and the ability to accept having one's opinions questioned.

Keith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I read somewhere, and I cannot for the life of me remember where, the qualifications required for either entry to a course of study or for a job of some type. The stipulation was fairly simple in that the right person would be in possession of a degree or would have had their original work published either as a book or scholarly article in a qualifying journal.

I think if you are able to say you fit into this category you may call yourself an historian without challenge. I do not fit this profile and do not describe myself as an historian, but others have referred to me in such terms. Last year I was invited to attend a service of thanksgiving and rededication for a memorial avenue of trees in the village where I grew up and now own a website dedicated to the memory of those men listed on the war memorials in the two villages of the parish. Not only was a I described as an historian, but I was there as an honoured guest up there with the Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire and the Lord Mayor of Leeds!

I am a student of the Great War in that I study certain aspects of it, although there is no academic aim or goal, nor is there a qualification at the end of it.

Just my thoughts on it.

Cheers,

Nigel

Link to comment
Share on other sites

It's a big question and the terms "expert", "specialist" and "amateur" can be interpreted in numerous ways, but if I were to try to define what makes a great historian it would be

>depth and breadth of research technique

>ability to challenge and draw conclusions

>an ability to write.

It needs all three.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I am very much an amateur though I do know (and don't know) a lot about the Swansea Battalion. I wouldn't claim to be an 'expert' on anything, really.

As my old boss used to tell me: EXPERT (sound it out) - an 'ex' is a has been and a 'spurt' is a drip under pressure!

I do have a Diploma in Local History which involved 2 years part time study and that has been very helpful as it covered e.g. where records might be found which has been very useful as a foundation to finding facts.

And my third book comes out later this year so I must be doing something right! Luckily all have been accepted by publishers so I've only had to find my research costs. Which is bad enough but its only a hobby that I enjoy...

Bernard

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I agree with virtually all of the above. I like consider myself an expert in a very narrow field, but whenever I use the Forum I become aware of huge areas of ignorance. No worthwhile work has ever been done without recourse to reference libraries and archival research and the ability to find links. One key however is as large a personal library as you can possibly build, particularly key reference works - ie OH, Becke and etc if your bag is British. In the words of Winston, largely, its a question of being able to "keep b*****ing on".

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In case I confused anyone can I make clear that my Doctorate is not in History but in Rock Mechanics, a discipline related to Mining Engineering.

Keith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Like some of the others I find the question a bit vague. A real student? I consider myself to be an enthusiastic amateur historian without any academic training. Keeps me happy!

jasmor58

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The question is vague intentionally. I wanted a variety of answers. I'm interested in what methods or practices, besides volumes of knowledge, make for a respected historian. I have my own views but I'm interested in what everyone has to say. I understand the wealth of amateurs, experts, teachers, authors, etc that browse the forum and I wish to tap that resource. Thank you all for sharing your views.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

At one time I was big headed enough to think I knew a bit about the Great War.

Over the years, and especially with membership of this great Forum, I realise that I have lots to learn. It one of those strange things....the more you learn, the more you realise there is to learn.

As a result, I am proud to be regarded as an enthusiastic amateur

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm interested in what methods or practices, besides volumes of knowledge, make for a respected historian.

I find that a much harder issue to address than the original point and, I think, it's one that I simply don't have any answer to. Whilst I know of several respected historians (or, at least, historians I respect for their knowledge), I have no knowledge of what methods or practices they might follow. Hopefully, some respected historians will appear on the thread and reveal their secrets.

John

Link to comment
Share on other sites

The late, great John Terraine (see obituary here) is good case in point - hugely respected, a superbly erudite writer of some of my favourite books on the Great War - The Smoke and the Fire, The White Heat etc.

However he didnt do a PhD (not that I know of) and spent little time buried in archives digging out primary sources: that didn't make him a bad historian. His writing is always logically argued (from the information that he had) and superbly communicated.

IMHO, many (if not most) of his arguments about the Great War still stand up pretty well 40+ years on from when he first started writing, despite some subsequent modification by more archivally based historians such as Sheffield, Bourne et al. (IIRC there is a good thread on revisionism in which he features.)

In my eyes a least he is a far greater historian than the self-serving Liddell Hart.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

If I may contribute my two-penneth here.

Being an expert or getting classed as or called one by others, does mean that one has been to Harvord, Eaton, Yale, or any other seat of learning. It means that one is dedicated to ones subject; has the ability to take critisism when one is wrong; keeps an open mind about ones findings; the ability to judge the facts and come to a logical conclusion; not taking first impressions as the be-all-and-end-all - or relying on the phrase... it looks like so it must be!; an ability to compile files logically and place items of historic interest into perspective; is not afraid to pass on ones acumalated knowledge freely; is not afraid to learn new information about well discussed findings; respects other individuals opinions.

My personal field of.. ahem!.. expertise.. is the Enfield Pattern 1907 bayonet. I am knowledgeable in other areas of The Great War, but I do not class myself as an expert, although forum members have refered that title upon me when questions need answers on items within my field. I am the founder of a British WW1 reenactment group.. the 2nd Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers.. here in southern California, am a member of The Old Contemptables WW1 Historical Group, but I class myself as a 'Knowlegeable Enthusiastic Amatuer Historian'. Nothing more, nothing less!

Seph

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wish I was out in California, man. I'd want to be in your living history unit.

I've learning tons since I joined this site a little a month ago. I can pick out basic identifiers of various bits of kit now, although I'm nearly hopeless at cap badge recognition! It's also been a big help in the in-progress assembly of my Great War impression.

As Lady Elaine Fairchilde from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood used to say, "You learn something old every day," although in my case I learn hundreds of old somethings a day!

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wish I was out in California, man. I'd want to be in your living history unit.

Matt, My battalion is part of the Geat Wat Historical Society, and can be found by clicking on the following site address, or pasting into your search engine: greatwarhistoricalsociety.com

From the listing menu that you will find on the top of the main page, click on Units, then click on the Union Jack Flag, then the wording above the left of the three Union Jack Flags. Your now at my battalion website. All my contact details are there, so if you require any help with your Ww1 impression, please contact me through my email address = on the site.

Seph

post-18081-1233725329.jpg

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I wouldn't call myself an expert in my field (British naval history of WWI). I know fully well it'll take me years to reach such a vaunted "position". However, when I spend hours underlining and correcting the books of those who are supposed to be experts, then I start to get slightly annoyed. In my experience a history degree seems to mean that many people can get away with writing tripe in an eloquent manner.

Simon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

In my experience a history degree seems to mean that many people can get away with writing tripe in an eloquent manner.

Objectivity can be difficult to retain when anyone works in their field - which may be very limited - for a long time and their entire focus can descend upon a conjecture that, in time, becomes a hobby horse to be ridden at every opportunity. Shifting to the other foot, though, conclusions can only be drawn on the evidence available at any given moment so most, if not all, are subject to revision. All reference books are out of date before they're issued, after all. Constructive criticism is the life-blood of all study and I don't think that anyone should be put off from writing to an author with suitably-referenced corrections just because the criticism is coming from someone without the right letters after their name. "Your book is crap!" won't get you very far but "I wonder if you'd care to comment on the following points I've noted while reading your book?" might get you a very long way.

Keith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I have one particular author in mind, whose name I won't reveal. The book in question was published in 1996 and a revised paperback was issued in 2005. The alterations were miniscule. What perturbs me is that in a decade either no-one else thought to mention the objections I have to the book, or else the author simply ignored them. The tone and scope of the book suggests that the author wouldn't take too kindly to any corrections anyway, as he would have to re-write the whole thing.

Constructive criticism is one thing, but I do believe that in certain cases one has to resort to destructive criticism. I'm currently working on a point by point rebuttal of the book in question.

Simon

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Matt, My battalion is part of the Geat Wat Historical Society, and can be found by clicking on the following site address, or pasting into your search engine: greatwarhistoricalsociety.com

From the listing menu that you will find on the top of the main page, click on Units, then click on the Union Jack Flag, then the wording above the left of the three Union Jack Flags. Your now at my battalion website. All my contact details are there, so if you require any help with your Ww1 impression, please contact me through my email address = on the site.

Seph

boots,

on the subject of learning, would i have learned on here that the k.s.a couldn`t be awarded without the q.s.a???.

cheers mike.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I'm currently working on a point by point rebuttal of the book in question.

That's exactly the way to do it, Simon, and I'd still call it constructive, albeit the author probably wouldn't! The question then arises where to publish. If the book is as badly-written as you suggest, your work needs widespread availability to minimise the errors being perpetuated.

Keith

Link to comment
Share on other sites

would i have learned on here that the k.s.a couldn`t be awarded without the q.s.a???.

cheers mike.

To my knowledge, that is incorrect. I have seen period photographs of individuals wearing only the KSA. The KSA is always seen with one or both of the following campaign bars =

1) South Africa 1901 (to all ranks who served in SA between the dates: 1st January to 31st December 1901).

2) South Africa 1902 (to all ranks who served in SA between the dates: 1st January to 31st May 1902)

To complicate matters, the QSA also was issued with above two campaign bars (for those who qualified), but for individuals who, for some reason, did not qualify for the KSA. So, I'll surmise that it is this criteria that you refer to!

Im certain that there are more knowledgeable forum members who will be able to answer your question more indepth that I can.

Seph :)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

To my mind, Chris Baker's post above sums it up pretty well. To become a professional historian you have to be able to acquire the knowledge/information, marshal and analyse it, and then draw conclusions from it which, if you are lucky, you will get published.

History is not quite like other disciplines, in that the skills it requires are not subject-specific in the way that, say, medicine or the law are. The techniques of gathering and analysing information can be learned in other disciplines such as English or other languages, or the arts generally. You probably need tools which enable you to check the authenticity of documents and artefacts, but these are mainly skills which anyone can learn rather than needing a particular cast of mind.

Some years ago I formulated four stages for progressing as a student:

1. You acquire information by reading books.

2. You are able to spot sources without using footnotes ("He got that from X's book").

3. You are able to spot mistakes.

4. You are able to spot the sources of mistakes ("He copied that from Y, who had got it wrong").

There may be other stages that I haven't reached yet, and of course the ability to marshal and analyse what you read applies progressively more at each level.

The really essential requirement to be an objective historian is that you must not have been there! (Cf a common comment about the 1960s.) Anyone who was actually present is bound to have his/her memories influenced by their own direct experience and, if writing of first-hand experience, will always be concerned to portray their own part in a favourable light. In some cases, such as that of heroism, this may take the form of playing down their own role but in most memoirs the author's influence on events is almost invariably over-stressed, however slightly.

Remember too that "an expert is one who knows more and more about less and less"!

The definition of a non-expert is someone who uses the crack about a has-been drip under pressure. Not, I hasten to add, someone who quotes someone else as using it. :lol:

Ron

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Where appropriate you have to go back to the original source material, whether in your local archive office or at Kew etc. I enjoy digging out dusty volumes that might not have been looked at for Gawd knows how long and seeing if there is anything that throws new or unusual light on a particular subject.

It was an education (when writing a book on the Poor Law in Swansea) to see a copy of a letter in the Swansea archives that had been sent to the Poor Law Commissioners in London. And then - when at Kew - to discover the original of the Swansea letter filed by said commissioners, with the scribbled comments of a commissioner on the back, telling some hard working clerk what to say. Since Swansea was usually asking for some dispensation or other the sometimes pithy comments of the commissioners - always backed up by reference to section this or that of the legislation - was a revelation.

Bernard

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...