By the end of the eighteenth century, not just novel readers but most novel writers were women, too. And most historians, along with their readers, were men. As the discipline of history, the anti-novel, emerged, and especially as it professionalized, it defined itself as the domain of men.
...Maybe the topics that have seized professional historians' attention-family history, social history, women's history, cultural history, "microhistory"-constitute nothing more than an attempt to take back territory they forfeited to novelists in the eighteenth century. If so, historians have reclaimed from novelists nearly everything except the license to invent . . . and women readers. Today, publishers figure that men buy the great majority of popular history books; most fiction buyers are women.
Is "history at risk"? If women barely read it at all, and if men mostly read books with titles like "Guts and Guns," it just might be.
The most frustrating thing about the New Yorker essay is that author Jill Lepore, who apparently is a Harvard professor of history, never once stops to examine the function of her profession, despite all her questions.
It is hardly original or controversial (or male, really) to observe that the noblest and most important goal of history is to learn from the mistakes of the past and thus avoid repeating them.
The next time there's a genocide, I hope it is the "historical truth" historians who get to the scene first, because it's going to be a lot harder to refute the inevitable genocide deniers with a historian who dabbles in "fictional truth."
When the U.S. Congress debates the federal budget in the next cycle, I likewise hope the discussion is informed by studies of past deficits and tax schemes conducted by historians with some allegiance to the idea of objective accuracy instead of to insanity like "a reader can find the same truth in a history book and a novel."
And, yes, the next time there's a discussion on how to combat urban poverty and inner-city crime, I'm glad no one will be holding up Margaret Seltzer's "memoir" as an example of anything, despite the heavy-handed political ideology the author bandied about before she was caught.
If many women aren't buying history in the strict sense, the solution is not to change the definition of history or standards of historic study, it's to convince more girls and women there's a point in preparing for a time when they have a good deal of power and need to use it wisely.
I will now conclude this stern and dry and probably boring rant and return to my attempts to entertain with blog posts based on information of often uncertain accuracy, since I am not a professor of history at Harvard University.