How do historians write about the people, places, and events they’ve studied in historical sources?
We continue our Doing History: How Historians Work series by investigating how historians write about history. Our guide for this investigation is John Demos, the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and an award-winning historian.
In this episode, we explore how historians write about history with John Demos, the Samuel Knight Professor of History Emeritus at Yale University and an award-winning historian.
During our conversation, John reveals what the new social and new narrative schools of history are and what it’s like to write about history in those genres; How John decides whether he should write a book about his research topics; And, how John approaches writing and has developed his writing skills over time.
What You’ll Discover
- John’s love of writing and how he became a historian
- New social history
- New narrative history
- John’s 3 dimensions of historical study: 1. Particular 2. General 3. Generic
- The importance of people in historical writing
- Details about the “heathen school” in Cornwall, Connecticut (1817-1826)
- How John decides whether his research topic is a book
- John’s writing process
- How John knows when to stop conducting research
- Mistakes John has made in his writing
- How to weave historical analysis into a compelling narrative
- How John developed his writer’s voice
- How historians balance a desire to do justice to the past with their position as human beings in the 21st century
- How John tries to maintain objectivity when he writes about history
Links to People, Places, and Publications
- John Demos
- Entertaining Satan: Witchcraft and the Culture of Early New England
- The Unredeemed Captive: A Family Story from Early America
- The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic
- Aaron Sachs
- Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
- The New Yorker
- John’s Potosi article for Common-place