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?


Author: marionvermazen

I am a traveler, hiker, avid reader, Sun alumnus, computer geek, Spanish and French language student, knitter and genealogist. I am retired after working for almost 30 years in the Computer Industry. I live in Reno, Nevada with my husband Duke.

5 thoughts on “How to be a Better Amateur Historian”

  1. Hi Marion! They used to say “Follow your bliss,” but however you word it, I think it’s a great idea, pursuing your passion once you’re free to do it. I’m actually more of an amateur genealogist than historian, but one of the tips I’ve had great success with is talking to the oldest members of my family who are still living about their memories, and then going back to where they lived and searching the records and looking for existing structires. I took pictures back and showed them to my uncle, and discovered that I’d taken a picture of the house they’d lived in during the depression in an entirely different town from where my father had always told us they’d lived. My father’s been dead for a couple of decades, and his brother’s gone now, too, but I might not have found their house if I hadn’t asked him about it while he was still alive. There’s a lot of living history walking around that’s going to be lost when our elders are gone. Sometimes you have to coax them into talking, but generally once you get them going, it’s an enjoyable experience for both parties.


  2. Good article, Marion, but you really should know that the name of the university is not spelled correctly. It’s e before i. Brandies sounds more like a tavern than an Ivy League school 🙂


  3. Deanna, You make a very good point. I am an amateur genealogist too. I like your idea of showing the relatives pictures to stimulate remembering. Ive recorded some of my conversations. Thanks for the idea!


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