A couple of pages into Apologie pour l’histoire, Marc Bloch borrows a line from Leibnitz on one of the chief motivations for doing history: the pleasure of learning singular things. “Let’s not remove its share of poetry from our discipline,” he continues, “and above all, let’s not blush about it, as I’ve caught some people doing.” (This is a very chatty translation of Bloch’s elegant formal French.) Still: there needs to be a larger intellectual justification for doing history, too, and that’s what the rest of his book is about.
I became a historian by an indirect route, via Arabic and Middle Eastern studies: it wasn’t until I was already a postdoc, and found myself spending a Christmas break reading history books for pleasure rather than for work, that I realized I’d become one. Since then, when I’m asked for my profession on official forms, I write ‘historian’. But, like many other people who come into history from other disciplines, I often feel that I missed out on some important basics: methodological training, familiarity with the big books and key debates, a sense of overarching narrative to start, or depart, from. This blog is meant to help me fill in some of those blanks, so I’m doing more than learning singular things. But the singular things are pretty important, too.
My name is Benjamin Thomas White.* I teach at the University of Glasgow, and if you want to contact me the details are on my staff page. You can find some of my stuff here. I wrote this book. And I’m on Twitter: @rain_later.
*Actually it’s Ben White. I use my full name professionally, in a mostly unsuccessful attempt to distinguish myself from this chap, who also writes books about the Middle East. If my brother worked on the Middle East he’d have a similar problem. But he doesn’t.