A Call for Kindness in the History Community

When I joined the history community around three years ago, I imagined it would be a happy little virtual land of castle and cathedral visitors, eager to share their latest discoveries over social media. A supportive little group of people who share the same passion: understanding the past. 

There are certainly some people like that, and I cherish the lovely online friendships I have with many writers, photographers and bloggers. But sometimes I do struggle with the bitterness and snarkiness that exists elsewhere in our community. 

For instance, Twitter. I've lost count of how many times I've seen authors' work openly ridiculed, photos taken of spelling mistakes or typos on the page and shared on a thread so we can all laugh at their supposed incompetence. A wrong name or family link. A footnote to an 'untrusted' source. Surprisingly some are authors themselves, which always puzzles me because I now know the vast work it takes to produce a history book: the initial research, sourcing images, delving into week-long historical rabbit holes and waking up at 3am in a daze, wondering who really did kill the Princes in the Tower. Having had my share of working days that started at 8am and ended at 4am the next day, I have the utmost respect for anyone who has written a history book. Mine was definitely hard work, but I can promise you that it was all done with passion and a love and respect for my subject. Which kind of got me thinking that, as a community, we might have lost our way a bit. 

Photo by Alexander Shatov on Unsplash

Yes, historians get things wrong, like anyone else. But a published work - whether a book, article or blog post - is never meant to be the final word on a subject. In fact, it's more often the beginning - a chink in a chain of knowledge and research that takes us further along in our understanding of the past. I have read some history books that were admittedly not well-researched or contained a ton of typos, spelling mistakes or erroneous sources. But I can honestly say I've never ever read a history book and considered it a waste of time. As writers we put ourselves out there, we invite criticism and debate. After all, for most of history, no one was there: it's just what we each believe the evidence demonstrates and it is inevitable that we will disagree. And when we do, a published work or new theory fuels further publicity and research on a topic, which is great news for all of us. Right? 

So debate and disagreements are a good thing, but not when the words become snarky or hateful. And this negatively impacts the cohesion of our community of writers, photographers, bloggers and history fans. Too often I see authors being shamed or bullied on social media for their views, level of education or writing style. Some have been personally attacked over their interpretations of the past. Instead of celebrating the long-awaited publication day as the fruits of (often years of) research are finally realised, I see authors cautiously urging the community to 'please be kind' and ducking at their desk as if they expect an avalanche of angry DMs. It is absolutely true that as authors we are rightly held accountable for our publications and ideas but can we all just think for a moment before we fire off angry or mocking social media posts? It's not good for the author, it's not good for the readers and it's not good for new historians who are scared off from sharing what could very well be valuable contributions to the study of history. Disagreement is good: but it needs to be done constructively. The sharing of research findings, sensitivity about the author's work and background, the quoting of sources and respectful communication. Not a bitchy snigger because of a typo or - God forbid - a point of view that's different to someone else's.  

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