At Freshers’ drinks this year, a first-year who had been savvy enough to acquaint himself with his future tutors’ publications greeted me by saying: “You’re the specialist in historiography.” My heart sank slightly, because a few months earlier another undergraduate had declared in a tutorial that he hated reading historiographical surveys (i.e. histories of how historians have treated a particular topic) above all, because these were the most boring bits of the entire degree, and ‘not real history and not real research’, because it was insiders writing about insiders.
Working on Jagiellonian Poland, an area which is still fighting its way into the consciousness of many early modernists, I have indeed written my fair share of historiographical essays, as part of an on-going act of translation (and academic persuasion) – trying to explain to ‘western’ readers why Polish history has become so invisible to us, and why Polish scholarship often appears so jarringly alien at first glance. Explaining all that is often a necessary prelude to talking about your own research.
|The Polish Reformation according to the ever so slightly|
nationalist German historian T. Wotschke (1911).
As it is, the historiography of the early Polish Reformation has turned out to be quite exciting. There is evidence of apparent Communist censorship, very recent tampering with 16C manuscripts, and of the early modern Polish past being systematically remoulded to serve stark nationalist agendas - deliberate attempts to ‘forget’ a distant and unwanted Lutheran past.
In our admissions interviews last week, we asked candidates to read an article by a British historian about an aspect of Spanish history. He was witheringly critical of Spanish scholars, of their myopia, myth-making and nationalism. “What makes him think that he, as a foreigner, can write their national history so much better than they can?” I asked. Good question.