No one can come to the formal study of history with a mind like a blank sheet of paper. We are already conditioned to engage with the past by the culture that surrounds us. The past — or, to be more accurate, a selection of highlights from the past — is embedded in Western popular culture in a host of ways. This has implications for our understanding of history even as we aim for the levels of sophistication and complexity that academic study demands. Academic history sometimes tries to project an image of detachment, situating itself above the busy swirl of popular culture. It is often said, with some justice, that one of the benefits of studying history to an advanced level is that it equips people to see through all the misconceptions and half-truths about the past that exist in the public domain. On the other hand, the idea of scholarly detachment can also be taken too far. When this happens, it can quickly descend into pious posturing which severely underestimates the significance of popular culture in all our lives. Exposure to popular culture is not ‘wrong’ or detrimental to your scholarly health. It is not something to be sheepish about as one enters the hallowed portals of academe. Popular culture accounts for some of the instinctive curiosity that makes us interested in history.
KeywordsNineteenth Century Popular Culture Medieval Period Popular Image Academic History
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