Writing for Student Audiences

Pitfalls and Possibilities

in Historical Reflections/Réflexions Historiques
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When historians privilege writing to and for one another over all other kinds of writing—especially in a period when the humanities in particular are under siege at public universities around the country—do we run the risk of making ourselves irrelevant to anyone but ourselves? This article explores the stakes involved when historians shift the focus of their scholarly work toward alternate, non-academic audiences. In this case, I will focus my attention on writing for university and secondary student audiences through textbooks and reference works. On the one hand, I argue that writing for students has its pitfalls, because it is devalued in the historical discipline relative to monographs and articles based on archival research. As such, investment in such writing can prove detrimental to achieving tenure and promotion. On the other hand, I argue that writing for students allows us to reach a much larger audience than our peers. In addition, writing for student audiences forces us to think carefully about the accessibility of our writing as well as the link between research, telling stories in writing, and teaching. As such, I argue that writing for students may allow historians greater visibility and relevance in the public at a critical time, given recent cuts in higher education budgets.

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