What are we?

One thing that I and others who aren’t professional historians or academics can struggle with is how we identify ourselves amongst the Great War community

I call myself an Amateur but refrain from adding the word historian. Firstly, because I feel a fraud if I use that as I’ve never worked on or studied for a degree or have any formal qualification in the subject (I never even got the chance to go to college nevermind University), nor am I a published author or a battlefield guide. I feel, whether that’s rightly or wrongly, that it takes away something from those who have studied & worked so hard to gain that recognition

Secondly, I’ve also seen other’s remonstrated for daring to use that sacred word, as some believe it is, by a minority of recognised professionals & academics in the past & when someone has asked a question or asked for some advice they have just been told to “Go read my book!” Whilst this is very rare something like this can put someone off from contributing to debates in the future

Of course this can happen amongst the amateur world as well. You only have to look on social media, online forums or attend meetings of supposedly like-minded individuals to find a Billy Big Balls strutting their stuff and thinking they know it all, that their version of events is the only correct one despite evidence contradicting this or relishing in the fact they’ve spotted that you’ve made a mistake in something that you’ve either said or posted & want to let the whole world know about it! Personally I welcome any feedback both good & bad. It’s how we learn from our mistakes after all, but there are ways to go about providing it in a way that doesn’t totally squash someone’s confidence. As someone who’s always struggled with self confidence it can be soul destroying at times & I know from speaking to others they can feel the same

I’m leaning heavily into research these days but strangely I don’t have the same apprehension about calling myself an Amateur Researcher (Ducks for cover now as Professional Researchers come after me!). I do often wonder why that is. But for certain I don’t like the use of the word fan or enthusiast as a description. To me it feels disrespectful when connected with the Great War (I’m probably just an odd one which is what you may already be thinking about me anyway!!)

From top to bottom we are all part of this amazing community of Great War history and all of us have a wealth of knowledge & information to share that others may not be aware of. For example we may know where exactly our local battalion was raised or where the Territorials used to do their training on a weekend. We can tell you about those named on our local village war memorial as well as share the incredible stories & experiences of many of our own family members. We may even have some wonderful personal mementos from the Great War that have either been inherited or picked up over the years and those of us who are lucky to be able to visit the old battlefields can share our experiences of these pilgrimages

Some of us will have a general interest in the Great War, others will concentrate on say a regiment or division , a particular individual, a specific battle or year, weaponry, uniforms, medical & nursing services, animals or life on the home front & social history

Respected & recognised historians & authors such as Paul Reed, Taff Gillingham, Peter Doyle & Chris Baker to name but a few have embraced social media in its various forms & have always been willing to engage & to freely share their knowledge or offer advice for which many of us are eternally grateful for. They, I believe, recognise that we all have something to contribute & that history is not some exclusive club and that we can all learn from each other regardless of our level of experience. The phrase ‘Everyday is a school day’ is certainly something which rings true for me

For everyone of course there will be a limit to what you may wish to share. If you’re writing a book say, involved in a TV project or creating a website resource you don’t want to be giving away everything or you’ll never sell any copies of the book ,get anyone visiting your website or watching you on the tellybox!!

In this 21st Century there is sadly still the added pressures & prejudices if you’re female. In our still predominantly male dominated community the question “What possibly could a woman know about the Great War?” still raises it’s ugly head. Now that is a load of old tosh! It’s great to see in recent years that many talented individuals who just happen to be women such as Lucy Betteridge-Dyson, Alexandra Churchill , Alina Nowobilska & Sandra Gittins are giving women historians a strong & powerful voice and producing & sharing some great stuff ,as well as excellent battlefield guides such as Genevra Charsley & Jo Hook, amongst many others, who have established themselves through the quality of their work. Not forgetting of course all the amazing ‘amateur’ ladies out there who share their Great War stories and research, yes I include you fairylight! Gender should have no bearing on anything at all is my honest opinion

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we are all students of history in some form or another so at the end of the day does it really matter if we were to call ourselves Amateur historians or not? I still have my personal doubts of course but I’d really love to hear your views on this and to get views from across the whole spectrum so please do share your comments here or tweet me @TerrierMcD

Join me next week when it’s time for another Guest Spot, giving a voice again to someone who may not normally have the opportunity to share their work & knowledge with the wider world

5 thoughts on “What are we?”

  1. I don’t get too hung up on what we are or what we’re not. We share a common passion for the subject, and in that we are all united I hope, and these many years in studying it have proved that so many different sorts of people have something to contribute. Not everyone sees it that way, I’m sure. But for me, in the end, we are all part of a common fellowship.

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  2. What are we supposed to call ourselves if not historians? I consider myself to be a historian and independent scholar. There is a man in Scotland called Alan Cumming. He researches the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. He is a landscape gardener. He was called an unusual war historian in the documentary I first saw him in. I’m still a very new researcher since I’ve only been studying the Great War for two years. I don’t call myself a historian to take anything away from the pros. I count on the pros to be my teachers and far away mentors

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  3. It’s all semantics. I prefer the Cambridge dictionary definition of historian: someone who writes about or studies history. You study and you write – simples! Confidence is a funny thing, though.

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  4. Thank you so much Wayne – that’s boosted my confidence!! Have only just had chance to catch up with this. I am not sure I would describe myself as anything (lack of confidence again) but if asked I would say my passion is WW1 research I suppose (though having looked I see I say enthusiast on my Twitter bio!) – having only been doing this for 8 years (the last 5 more obsessively) I am aware how little I know and like you I am grateful to Taff and the others (I would add Rob Thompson in there too) for taking the time to answer my questions with respect. I really am glad to be part of this community – without a doubt the friendships and the research opportunities have kept me afloat during the past few months.

    Liked by 1 person

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