Journalists and historians share some commonalities. Both review facts, interview eyewitnesses, research and strive to tell the whole story without bias. However, journalists get to experience some of the glory that is associated with breaking new stories that directly affect people’s lives. On the other hand, historians can only experience glory when they write honestly about the past. Truthful accounts of the past may not do squat for the future. For instance, whose life is going to change now that they have found out that bodies were once buried at Stonehenge? Will you still be able to get your coffee in the morning?
Glory doesn’t have to be life-changing or dramatic. It can affect people in subtle ways. For example, Mary Thompson is a research historian at Mount Vernon Estate, which is where President George Washington lived. Thompson sifts through voluminous records to supply Mount Vernon with information based on their needs. When they wanted to re-enact Washington’s funeral, she uncovered the details. To help Mount Vernon recreate Martha Washington’s Christmas cake, Thompson was there to supply the recipe.
While Thompson may not be digging up information that is going to change people’s lives, she is helping people get a clear view of the man on the one-dollar bill. That’s pretty glorious.
For the most part, however, you “make up” the glory. You aren’t going to be lauded by a lot of outside parties – you have to see the glory in the work yourself. You’re something of a missionary, committing yourself to the pursuit of something others can respect, but would never do themselves in a million years.
And you do have to look at what you do as a kind of religion. You’d better be devout and madly in love with history, because you’re certainly not in this for the paycheck. Sure, if you checked out the Salary section, the money may not look too bad, but the truth is that you are only making that kind of dough because you spent years and years in school racking up serious loan debt so you could snag that PhD designation. It will be at least 20 years or so before that debt is… history.