“I’m a historian and that freaks me out”


Mike Tyson’s words captured in an interview with Robert E. Johnson published in a 1995 issue of Ebony

Inducted into both the world and international boxing halls of fame Tyson’s accomplishments in his sport are impressive.  In 2013 his book made The New York Times Best Seller list.   So is he a sports historian or not?

Over on Evelyn Buck’s blog an anonymous commenter is cautioning others on who can and can’t be called a historian:

“Be careful who you call an historian, 19:11. There are fewer than those that are often credited as such. A true historian has academic credentials, while a mere history buff does not.”

Okay, let’s all be careful who we call a historian.  Wikipedia, you  dictionary buff, what says you:

A historian is a person who researches, studies and writes about the past, and is regarded as an authority on it.

If you Google authority you’ll find:

– Authority is the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.

– a person or organization having power or control in a particular, typically political or administrative, sphere.

Having spent over a decade here in Aurora attempting to reconnect with my family history my encounters with the one organization purported to be the sole “authority” on the town’s history to be the complete opposite. The only thing the Aurora Hysterical Society can claim is a sad preoccupation with enforcing obedience and maintaining power and control eerily similar to a scene from South Park where Cartman shrieks out “you will respect my authoritah!”

cartman 500 x 341
cartman 500 x 341

Those that flaunt “academic credentials” as a way to dismiss or exclude others are downright pathetic. Is there even a Bachelors or Masters degree one can take on the History of Aurora? Has a Doctorate of Philosophy thesis been written on the entire history of Aurora?

I chose who I consider to be authorities on matters of local history and it has nothing to do with “academic credentials”. Fuck the cowardly anonymous commenter and their rigid interpretation of what a “true” historian is.

I have received far more substance from those in our town without “academic credentials” in the field of history than those that do.

It’s one of the driving reasons I established The Aurora Heritage authority in 2012. The a in authority is lower case denoting a distributed authority, not a central one.

So if you find someone around town researching, studying and writing about the past, instead of considering if it is somehow appropriate to dismiss them like a scene out of South Park, engage them.

You’ll likely find those passionate about how the town’s history connects to them are not writing some dissertation for an academic institution and they are more than willing to share their knowledge, their artifacts and their stories.

This makes them true historians in every sense of the term and who are as valuable, if not more so than those who exert their authority by way of their academic credentials.


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