Is western historical literature being slowly ‘dumbed down’ to pander to a market used to snappy ‘sound bites’ and not having to think as they read? This query arises from the experience of one historical author who was requested by his publisher to ‘spice up’ his works and possibly turn them into novels to make them more acceptable. This case was seen over a year ago on one
of the literary agents websites.
Extending the question, one queries whether the extensively researched and well argued historical investigation is only rarely nowadays deemed suitable for public consumption and is otherwise put out only by academic publishers with a view to it residing in university libraries not accessible to the general public. Few public libraries are investing in new publications of this nature.
For a few decades of the second half of the 20 century a wide variety of material was pushed onto the market, from the high quality very well researched historical treatise to the highly speculative material that while classed as ‘alternative history’ should have been under the ‘fiction’ heading. The market, in effect was flooded and naturally sales eventually fell…end of
market as far as most publishing houses were concerned irrespective of the thoughts of the individual editors employed within the industry.
If historical authors are requested to ‘spice up’ their works to make them more attractive, who is deemed to be the reader attracted by these simplified works? Is this the historically interested public or the publishing house’s managers who make such decisions?
Again, we see documentaries on Television that are little more than a collection of ‘soundbites with pictures’ and give very little detail expecting the audience to accept what they are told with insufficient reinforcing material. The public are effectively ‘spoon-fed’ little snippets of info; but this does not satisfy the appetite for knowledge.
The above has not as yet seeped into the realms of science but appears to apply primarily to the humanities, specifically history. As an example a recent BBC documentary had the volcanic explosion of Santorini as the base of the Atlantis narrative from Plato. This is not a new idea, it has emerged a number of times over the past four or five decades which in itself indicates that it is in error. There is absolutely no reference in Plato’s work that even remotely indicates that Santorini was behind the concept. As has occurred so often in the past, Plato’s writing gets a little ‘bent’ to suit the idea. Add to this the repeated mention of the bluestones of Stonehenge being moved by men from West Wales. This by academics involved in the Riverside Project [ around 12 different sites for the stones plus another in Brecon] while for over 100 years geologists have been stating that these stones are nought but glacial erratics and indeed have shown the glacial movements that moved the stones in the Ice Age before last.
Those intrepid bronze age super strong stone removal men have of course caught the eye of various media sources…media means money to academia hence why spoil a good story with a few snippets of truth? Dumb it down and pull in the money, never mind if it is fantasy and not fact…which is the way that documentaries in the field of history appear to be heading and books will only get the same treatment; this has apparently already started as indicated above.
So much for academic rigour, it is non existent in this specific case. The question now of course is how do we persuade publishers of books and film to do the right thing and get back on track with some solid factual material instead of pandering to the small minded who are not interested in truth but merely want an attention grabbing story? If this could be achieved then just maybe my own work would stand a chance…editors in fact generally have praised the books but their hands were tied by their individual managers and by company policy. Small publishers of course are unwilling to take a chance in a market created by the big outfits. While short term profiteering governs publishing it is the reading public and those who write hoping to reach that public who are the losers. However, we have the additional problem of the present government’s negative attitude to the humanities in higher education and hence it seems even more unlikely that quality, well researched material will be available in the bookshops. One wonders just where this slackening of quality is ultimately leading.