Editor: Herman Paul

What makes a good historian? When historians raise this question, as they have done for centuries, they often do so to highlight that certain personal attitudes or dispositions are indispensable for studying the past. Yet their views on what virtues, skills or competencies historians need most differ remarkably, as do their models of how to be a historian (‘scholarly personae’). This volume explores why scholarly personae were, and are, so important to historians as to generate lots of debate. Why do historians seldom agree on the marks of a good historian? What impact do these disagreements have on historical research, teaching and outreach? And what does this tell about the unity, or disunity, of the field called historical studies? In addressing these questions, How to be a historian develops a fascinating new perspective on the history of historiography. It challenges conventional narratives of professionalization by demonstrating that the identity of the ‘professional’ was often contested. At the same time, it shows that personae could be remarkably stable, especially in relation to race, class and gender assumptions. With chapters by Monika Baár, Ian Hunter, Q. Edward Wang and other recognized specialists, How to be a historian covers historical studies across Europe, North America, Africa and East Asia, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes alike. The volume will appeal not only to readers of historiography, but to all historians who occasionally wonder: what kind of a historian do I want to be?

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Scholarly personae: what they are and why they matter

What are scholarly personae? To introduce this volume, this opening chapter explores the concept as it has been developed in various forms by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, by scholars around the journal Persona Studies, and by historians interested in ‘the scholarly self’. Central to the approach adopted in this volume is the question ‘what kind of a historian do I want to be?’ With examples from American and German historical studies, the chapter shows that answers to this question always draw on available templates or models of how to be a historian. Identifying these models as scholarly personae, the chapter goes on to argue that research on scholarly personae is most productive when it zooms in on how personae are appropriated, adapted and applied in concrete historical settings. Guiding questions are: What personae are available to historians at a given time and place? How do they use them and to what ends? What demands do personae make upon historians in terms of skills, virtues or habits they require? And to what extent does this differ across time, space and fields?

in How to be a historian
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Pairs of personae in nineteenth-century German historiography

Language of virtue and vice, such as that used by nineteenth-century German historians, offers a glimpse on an often neglected aspect of historical studies – that of dispositions, character traits or virtues deemed necessary for pursuit of historical inquiry. The chapter shows that often-used phrases like ‘the first virtues of the historian’ invoked hierarchical constellations of virtues corresponding to distinct conceptions of the historian’s vocation, which may be called scholarly personae. From this it follows that personae can be historicized: they need not be seen as a modern conceptual tool, but as modern names for schematic models of virtue that nineteenth-century historians themselves already invoked. The chapter also argues that such personae tended to be associated with outstanding historians and often came in contrastive pairs: Schlosser vs Ranke, Waitz vs Sybel and Treitschke vs Lamprecht. What these examples also illustrate is that pairs of personae could change over time, in step with changing debates over the historian’s vocation and the virtues it demanded.

in How to be a historian