History – leave it to the professionals!

History: leave it to the professionals. This was the message I was getting from my radio when I listened to Juliet Gardiner’s programme, Presenting the Past, How the Media Changes History on BBC Radio 4’s Archive on 4 last week. I got very angry and wanted to submerge the FM receiver in the bath water, except that, it would have ruined a perfectly good old fashioned wireless and I didn’t want to do that.

Juliet Gardiner might well be an eminent historian who studied at university and obtained fabulous qualifications in history studies, enabling her to teach, write about and appear on TV programmes, but it made me wonder, is the pursuit and telling of history really only allowable in the hands of those that went in for high education?

I came away from my comprehensive school with a bunch of CSEs (Certificate of Secondary Education) and I went off to learn many skills, most of which were self-taught. Book reading has been my passion for as long as I can remember and in recent years I have been keen to learn as much as possible about local history as well as that of Britain’s past . I am passionate about it and when I see people walk past a timber-framed house, for example, built in the Elizabethan period and now turned into a trendy coffee shop or wine bar, I want to scream and tell people that it was originally a wool merchants house or whatever. Too many of us, brought up in England, Scotland and Wales take our historic properties for granted and do not even think of them as terribly significant – just as old quaint buildings. But while they are that – they have a past and a story, and that has an impact on all of us.

I do not have any qualifications in the study of history and I suppose that is why the BBC and other television channels may never want to use me to present any of their programmes, but that hasn’t stopped me wanting to share my thirst for knowledge of our fascinating past with my fellow citizens through the medium of film and TV.

The Bald Explorer is a documentary series that tries to introduce its viewers to the heritage of this nation and tell some of the stories from the past. I cannot call myself a historian, but I do not see that it matters. Provided I research my subject well, communicate the main points and do not make stuff up, I do not see why I should not be allowed to do this. However, listening to Juliet Gardiner, the other day, I was given the distinct impression that I should leave well alone. To my mind, the more people who can engage with history the better. If I can enthuse my passion and persuade others to take a second look at that timber framed building, pick up a book (one even written by Juliet Gardiner) and learn a bit more about where we come from, then this is a good thing.

I am not sure what axe she has to grind with ‘amateurs’ having a go, but I think it very shortsighted.

The Bald Explorer episode about Taking the Waters at Royal Tunbridge Wells is now complete and will be broadcast on the Community Channel early next year. If you would like to help these programmes and can afford to give a small donation, you may see the programming before the transmission dates. Head to the Bald Explorer website (www.BaldExplorer.com) to find out how to donate. Thank you.

7 Replies to “History – leave it to the professionals!”

  1. Quite right, I couldn’t agree more!

    It seems to me (and this is something you might want to explore further) that, over the years, the only people who are allowed to do anything ‘serious’ have to be ‘professionals’ and that the term ‘amateur’ has fallen into disrepute. Personally, I’d rather see an enthusiastic amateur given opportunities than some staid professional!

    Keep up the good work!

  2. It would be very dangerous to leave history or anything else for that matter to only those that have studied in university. Imagine a world were we have a few gatekeepers of everything … how easy it would be to corrupt future generations minds and skew the past.

    I do not see a piece of paper being a prerequisite to telling stories about our past, in fact I see that sort of mind-set as being dangerous.

    Please carry on with your amazingly informative programs, there are many people out there that appreciate them.

  3. This attitude is arrogant and narcissistic. What is a “professional”? Someone only with a high-ranking college degree? Tell that to Bill Gates who never got one. Someone with decades of experience? That has no relevance to someone who can do their own independent research to the same level (or even more) than she would.

    Yes, the Internet by its nature has put a lot of “armchair” people out there who spout their opinion as fact simply because they have access to a keyboard. I would like to think that these are the types of people she’s referring to. History isn’t a trade where you earn experience as you go. It’s there for everyone who’s willing to do the research. She sounds like someone who is comfortable with her stature and feels threatened by those who actually put as much or more work into history than even she would because she can conveniently hide behind her label of “professional”.

  4. I’m with you, Richard. Anyone who goes to their local records office can access documents which are primary sources. What follows is “interpretation”, and I often wonder whether the views of professional historians might be skewed by the politics and opinions of the people under whom they studied at university. I know there was a lot of Marxist input in various universities during the sixties. The amateur historian should be uninfluenced by this, and give a fresh interpretation. You carry on, Richard; you’re doing “great”.

    1. Thanks Helen. For me, I do not pretend to have the answers. The name of the show gives it away – I explore a subject. I may not be accurate all the time (hopefully most is on solid foundation) but I want to pique the interest of my viewer to find out more or visit where I have been. They can make their own decision.

      Thanks for support as always.

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