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James M. Banner, Jr.Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History

Cambridge University Press, 2012

by marshall poe on September 7, 2012

James M. Banner, Jr.

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What is a historian? How are they trained? What do they do? What should they do? Are they doing it well? These important questions addressed in James M. Banner, Jr.‘s excellent Being a Historian: An Introduction to the Professional World of History (Cambridge University Press, 2012). Banner knows whereof he speaks: he’s been working historical trade in various capacities (far more varied than most, I’m happy to say) for half a century. He’s a careful observer, a trenchent critic, and (something I found refreshing) an unrelenting optimist. In this interview he talks about the historical discipline, professional historians, and historians (including history majors!) working in a great variety of occupations. If you are a thinking about studying history, already study history, or are in one of the historical trades, you would do well to read this book.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Eric September 9, 2012 at 9:29 am

Just heard the bit about the 60-year-old lawyer, and Marshall’s comments about how he reflects the majority of the podcast listeners.

Ouch! How true! I was trained (undergraduate) as an engineer, spent time in the nuclear Navy operating submarines, and was lucky enough to be sent off for a master’s degree in Middle Eastern politics and then a tour in Ankara, Turkey as a liaison officer (with requisite Turkish language training beforehand).

I now am fascinated by history, specifically the history of non-Byzantine Anatolia, spend my time listening to history podcasts (the commute in the DC area is a killer and so very favorable to this sort of pastime), and free time reading the “serious” history books (in English and Turkish) that you discuss. I’ve taken Arabic lessons to be able to better read some of the inscriptions of the Ottomans and Islamic dynasties. My ultimate aspiration is, once I grow up, to be able to go back to school and do some serious study.

Thanks for the interesting podcast, and the fantastic series.



Steve November 2, 2012 at 3:10 am


I presume you’ve read Edward Said’s ‘Orientalism’. If not, it’s essential for you. And, there’s an excellent unabridged audiobook edition of Orientalism.

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