Score one for Dr. Jeff Livingston (explanation, please).

In the many conversations we parlayed, (he the professor, me the graduate student and intern), the status of History in the post modern climate of these United States came up often. I took the position that History tends toward stuffiness, that ivory tower elitism and near incomprehensible prose are killing the discipline. Further, I argued that historians must do a better job in bringing history before the masses. For his part, Dr. Livingston deliberated on my position before advancing his measured disagreement.

“Joe,” he said, “I can see where and why you say that, but I disagree. History needs its professionals, its training. And the ivory tower – as you call it – trains historians.”

I remember this vividly. And now, as I embark for England for further training, to sit, hopefully, someday in the ivory tower, Professor Livingston’s words echo.

Here’s why… Thomas P. Lowry, author of several books on the Civil War including, Don’t Shoot That Boy!: Abraham Lincoln and Military Justice (1999), forged a primary document. Not just any forged document, but a letter penned by President Abraham Lincoln. The video explains the gory details better than I can translate here.

I offer only this. Thomas P. Lowry is not a trained historian. No. He’s but an amateur. He graduated from Stanford University with a medical degree. Mr. Lowry did not start writing or investigating history full-time until he retired. And he admits freely that he altered the Lincoln document for the sole purpose of selling books.

But even an amateur knows not to alter a document. What angers me most, and I believe Professor Livingston will back me on this, is that I work hard to produce history that will stand the test of times, that will contribute to the discourse of the discipline, and that will, somehow, contribute to the betterment of human understanding. My integrity, my talent, and my sweat will produce history of merit. Mr. Lowry wanted to sell history books. Historians want to write history.

Maybe that’s the difference, maybe that’s the block, the schism between what separates the masses from the scholars of History. The masses will largely drink in stories of the past (Washington threw a dollar across the Potomac, Lincoln never told a lie) because it feels good. In contrast, historians brew a most difficult elixir: the pricey Pomerol of investigation, a deep, opaque and complex quaff of nearer truths.

Surely there must be a way to bring the hard work of ivory tower historians to the everyday man and woman, and in such a way that the everyday citizen can drink it in and feel wholly quenched.