How to be a Better Amateur Historian

Hackett Fischer

Last Monday I listened to a online lecture by Professor David Hackett Fischer of Brandeis University. He has written several books of history including Washington’s Crossing, Paul Revere’s Ride and Champlain’s dream. He was also my daughter’s adviser at Brandeis. Professor Fischer’s lecture was great. One of the things he talked about was how interest in History is growing among college students and among older people who are coming to History having studied and had careers in unrelated areas. That’s me.

I consider myself an amateur historian. I have always loved History. My college degree was in Computer Science rather than History because my parents always impressed on me how important it was to get a marketable degree and History was considered anything but marketable. So now that I am no longer working for a living but instead I am working at things I love, I have added Historian to my list of current ‘jobs’.

At the end of the lecture Professor Fischer took questions so I submitted one. I asked if he had any advice other than reading books about how to become a better amateur historian. He said that Francis Parkman wrote an essay about being a historian  in which he said you should “Go there”, “Do it”, and “Write it”. He recommended retracing the paths and locations of whatever you are studying. Professor Fischer inspired me and made me think that I should plan some historical travel trips and write about them.

It would be fun to retrace John Quincy Adams trip from Russia to The Netherlands as a 16 year old. Here in Nevada, Duke and I have explored some of the old pioneer routes. I should do some more reading about the pioneers and write about it. Do you have other suggestions?

What other ideas do you have about how to be a better amateur historian?