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What is an African historian?

Negotiating scholarly personae in UNESCO’s General History of Africa

Larissa Schulte Nordholt

This chapter studies scholarly personae through the prism of UNESCO’s General History of Africa. It focuses on the establishment of the sub-discipline of African history. Scholars employing the persona concept have mostly adopted micro or meso perspectives of historical scholarship. African historians engaged in the General History of Africa, by contrast, invite us to adopt a macro perspective, given that they dissociated themselves from ‘the’ Western historian, no less, in its multiple, Eurocentric, incarnations. What could it mean for the study of scholarly personae to move to such a macro level and scrutinize a moment in the history of historiography that purposefully sought to combat existing models of ‘good scholarship’ from a decolonizing perspective? The chapter illustrates how the paradox of having ‘double consciousness’, or working with different perspectives, informed the scholarship of those historians working on the General History. In light of the antagonistic character of African historiography in this period, it seems to have been easier to construct a shared vision of a persona non grata than a shared ideal-typical model of scholarship.

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Ranke vs Schlosser

Pairs of personae in nineteenth-century German historiography

Herman Paul

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.

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Pasha and his historic harem

Edward A. Freeman, Edith Thompson and the gendered personae of late-Victorian historians

Elise Garritzen

This chapter discusses the unaddressed question of historians’ gendered personae. Because gender difference structured historians’ world views, it is necessary to analyse the bond between gender and scholarly personae. The chapter does this by taking two late-Victorian British historians, Edward Freeman and Edith Thompson, as examples and explores how gendered personae were constructed and maintained and how women adjusted to and possibly challenged the restrictions placed on them. Although women were not entirely excluded from history writing, they were not invited to produce new historical knowledge. Instead, they were assigned the task of popularizing the studies men had produced. Consequently, women were expected to emulate a persona that was specific to their gender and corresponded with the type of history they were required to produce. The chapter suggests that the boundaries between various practices and styles of history writing were fluid. Some women did not settle for popularizing, but conducted independent research and adopted the persona of a serious historian, a manifestly masculine position even if men considered such unconventional conduct as inappropriate. Indeed, just as gender was an essential organizing concept in Victorian society, it was implicit in the personae historians promoted.

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Of communism, compromise and Central Europe

The scholarly persona under authoritarianism

Monika Baár

This chapter engages with the question how institutionalized repression influences the nature of historical scholarship and the historian’s persona. It does so by interrogating the work, life and self-fashioning of a leading Hungarian historian of the communist period, Péter Hanák (1921–97), whose achievements were significant in placing Hungarian history in a transnational perspective and studying it with the most up-to-date research methods. The chapter outlines Hanák’s main lines of research, including the intellectual heritage of fin-de-siècle Austria-Hungary, and shows how he instrumentalized that tradition for the forging of his persona. It also reveals how Hanák’s engagement with that tradition in a somewhat nostalgic fashion and in his role as a public intellectual served as a symbolic warning against the dangerous nature of increasing nationalistic overtones in the intellectual sphere during the late communist period. All in all, the chapter reveals that historiographical production in the former ‘Eastern bloc’ was not necessarily permeated with communist ideology, certainly not to the extent that this undermined professional quality.

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Introduction

Scholarly personae: what they are and why they matter

Herman Paul

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?

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Interpretative and investigative

The emergence and characteristics of modern scholarly personae in China, 1900–30

Q. Edward Wang

Intellectual life experienced a dramatic change in China after the First Sino-Japanese War (1894–95), leaving an indelible impact on the shaping and structuring of the scholarly persona among Chinese historians. Examining the careers of four scholars – Zhang Taiyan (1869–1936), Liang Qichao (1873–1929), Hu Shi (1891–1962) and Fu Sinian (1896–1950), this chapter discusses two types of persona that at once reflected and embodied the transformation of historical scholarship, and intellectual life in general, in modern China. Blending traditional and modern elements, these two personae were shown not only in where and how the scholars conducted their research and teaching, but also in how they pursued and displayed sociopolitical virtues through their scholarly careers. The author notes that while internal disposition played a primary role in forming a persona, it also negotiated with external factors, resulting in the alternating appeal of a particular persona in a given period while a scholar adjusted his/her predisposed interest in and inclined aptitude for scholarship.

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Edited by: 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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Generational continuities and composite personae

French historiography from the 1870s to the 1950s

Camille Creyghton

The standard narrative on French historiography during the period 1870–1950 classifies historians under two successive and wholly different generations, schools or paradigms: the ‘methological’ or positivist school and the Annales school. This chapter studies French historiography in terms of the scholarly personae valued by historians of these two generations, taking as case studies two pairs of masters and students: Gabriel Monod and Lucien Febvre; Charles Seignobos and Marc Bloch. It concludes that, from the perspective of scholarly personae, the continuities between the generations are more important than their differences. The personae approach thus leads to an important reconsideration of the standard narrative, putting into perspective the sharp distinctions that structure it. In addition, the chapter argues for a broader and more open interpretation of the persona concept than has been adopted to date, as this appears necessary for understanding some complexities or internal tensions within the discourses of different French historians about what it takes to be a historian, which in part stem from the fact that historians play different roles at the same time.

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Fixing genius

The Romantic man of letters in the university era

Travis E. Ross

This chapter compares the contemporaneous efforts by champions of distinct historical enterprises to demonstrate that they could create and sustain professional scholars worthy of the mantle of the Romantic man of letters. It compares the idealized personae created by Professor J. Franklin Jameson to those created by competing factions within the for-profit research company that produced what became the Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley. It demonstrates that Jameson and representatives from Bancroft’s History Company all claimed that their enterprises could synthesize and sustain genius, calling to mind the heroic man of letters who could believably promise to meet the onerous expectations of the archival turn. Just as importantly, this chapter examines what we stand to gain and to lose in different permutations of the ‘scholarly persona’ by experimenting with the results produced by aligning different traits with scholarly personae while reducing others to supporting structures like templates or repertoires.

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The finitude of personae

Bryce Lyon, François Louis Ganshof and the biography of Pirenne

Henning Trüper

The chapter discusses a case of the maintenance of scholarly persona among US-American and Belgian medievalists. The case emerged around Bryce Lyon’s 1974 biography of Henri Pirenne and the mentoring he received in the writing of this work from Pirenne’s former student F. L. Ganshof, and it discusses relations between Lyon and Ganshof when Ganshof was a visiting professor in the USA in 1963–4. The chapter pursues the problem of the inbuilt finitude, the self-destructive tendencies of scholarly personae. It uses this pursuit to explore the question of whether the cultural form of the scholarly persona, as familiar from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, actually came to an end during the 1960s and 1970s. It tentatively argues in favour of this conclusion and adumbrates some of its possible consequences for the history of contemporary notions of selfhood.