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Andrew S.

Terrell - Readings in Public History" Fall, 2009

Q: What do you think is the single most significant strength or weakness of Tyrellʼs
book?

Public history’s past is equally impressive as its ever-evolving, ever-expanding field.

What seems to be the large, unified aims of public historians are the abilities to communicate,

inform, and entertain the public. Ian Tyrell avoids hypocrisy in elaborating on the history of

public history by writing to a broad audience. He outlines the 20th century as it pertains to the

field of public history while defending his central theme that the field has been successful

throughout the last century despite numerous obstacles. Most importantly, his strongest ally in

conveying the trail of public history is his ability to keep the immense history interesting through

his style of writing. His writing style allows his argument that inter-discipline contention is

nothing new to be accepted.

It seems that a repetitive barrier for public historians is finding a medium between

academic information, and popular culture or demand. Essentially, Tyrell recognizes the need to

be scholarly and mildly entertaining and incorporates both approaches to history. He is able to

criticize the separation of historians over the impact of social history by posing his readers the

question: Why is one portion of history more important than any other, even if all subfields are

linked? Being politically correct, in addition, has brought discourse between ideas of settlement

versus invasion and other definitions which all depend on the aspect of the individual. However,

Tyrell merely notes the debates that have consumed historians. He concludes that the only result

from the bickering was a public perception that history was a receding profession. His argument

and conclusion are well-grounded thereby meeting the requirement for scholarly work, and his

language within his defense is simple enough for an audience larger than academia to read and

understand.
Andrew S. Terrell - Readings in Public History" Fall, 2009

Narrative history is usually discouraged. However, by following the changes in attitudes

towards and from historians, one cannot help but wonder what the profession may be in the next

few years. When detailing the controversies over specialization and narrow views, for instance,

Tyrell maintains his ability to expound the components of dispute without losing the audience’s

interest. The language Tyrell uses in his narrative approach to history only works to his benefit.

One must recall his points about the fear of technology, but, each incident when a new

technology was introduced historians have adapted and exploited the new trend. Narratives often

deter from scholarly acceptance because they draw in what some consider excessive emotion or

drama. Nevertheless, Tyrell’s interpretations of public history to 1970 meet both scholars and

the public half way.

Why is it Tyrell is successful at selling his monograph? Because he approaches his work

as a public historian and succeeds at linking historical data to his audience. His writing style

neither condemns, nor praises the trends that took place between 1890 and 1970. He keeps the

reader involved and curious by writing a narrative discussion. This style of writing is more than

adequate at detailing the changes within the historical profession and how historians have related

their work to the public. It is because of his writing style that he can defend his position on how

bickering and history as a profession has its own past. Historians must accept that neither

academic nor public history approaches are any more significant than another.