Historical professionalism: A changing product of communities within the discipline

Historical professionalism: A changing product of communities within  the discipline

By Rolf Torstendahl

Storia della Storiografia, Vol. 56 (2009)

Introduction:  Very often historians of historiography refer to the nineteenth century as a period when the ‘professional historian ’ came into existence or when a ‘process of professionalization ’ changed the historical discipline. Most often the development referred to is regarded as a unified series of occurrences. Yet different authors make different criteria decisive for the classification of the professionalism that they want to illustrate. Thus, Pim den Boer and Christophe Charle make full-time employment (or salaried employment) the criterion of the ‘professional historian ’; Gabriele Lingelbach lets the ‘professionalization ’ of historians depend on education and its content; Georg Iggers refers (1997) to the ideas (regarding history as a science) and methods of historians as the fundamental preconditions for their ‘professionalization ’, but later (2008) his use of the term is sparse; many others have claimed that historians became professionals through the advancement of methods in the nineteenth century, sometimes using a combination of criteria . Because of the different criteria these authors also indicate a different time-span for the process. Boer sets the period to the whole of the nineteenth century or rather 1818-1914 for France; Lingelbach sets it to 1870-1914 for France and the USA; others tend to indicate a period around the middle of the nineteenth century.

This article wants to oppose not only one or the other of the criteria mentioned: full time employment, education, utilization of certain methods. Primarily it is directed against the idea of one process of ‘professionalization ’ that made history ‘scientific’ (and a corresponding process of dismantling the scientific image). The idea of a professionalization process in diverse occupations was very popular among sociologists in the 1960s, based on ‘traits’ that were thought to characterize professionalism. Since then the concept has lost its attraction among sociologists and they usually avoid it. It seems that there is good reason to do the same in history of historiography, not just to follow the pattern from sociology but mainly for the reason that it is based on the idea that certain ‘traits’ should be found that constitute the process.

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