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Response to Review no. 217

I am delighted by Simon Ditchfield’s generous and thoughtful review of my book. His emphasis on public history as a leading theme of History in Practice is most welcome. I would agree with him that the sense of historical practices, which scholars take for granted, probably does not extend very far into the public sphere. My point was that historians need to work much harder to ensure that they do so. This is a complex undertaking and the forces working in other directions are exceptionally powerful. But I am ever optimistic that, with concerted efforts, there can be a more general appreciation of, for example, the dangers of making arguments through extreme cases, the potential for emotional manipulation, and the value of ‘reliability’ and ‘judiciousness’ however unexciting all this sounds. For me these are ethical matters. It is entirely consistent that we develop more effective ways of debating popular history (such as Simon Schama’s recent television series). In effect my book suggests that it is unhelpful to view public history as a specialised interest that mainly concerns museums and schools. The issues it raises are at the heart of the discipline as whole. History in Practice presents a range of issues as intricately bound together – acknowledging the broad, rich compass of our field is not incompatible with a sense of the core issues be they ethical, epistemological or political.