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Selling history

In what now seems like a former life I was once attempting to write a PhD thesis in the History department in Trinity, and it was at the same time as historian, author and radio presenter Patrick Geoghegan was taking up his first job in the college. We shared an office and talked a good bit about history or about the writing of history at least (always theorising, me, never doing!). Patrick was a much better historian than I - dedicated to archives and establishing a set of facts that could be put together in a coherent narrative designed to both describe and explain in an accessible form what happened at a particular time in the past. (I, on the other hand, dirty theorist that I was, was more interested in proving, both in writing and in action - living proof, as it were - that that very aim of history was impossible!)

Now I hear him (only, sadly, once in a blue moon) taking that accessibility further with his Newstalk programme, Talking History (Sundays, 19.00-21.00), and what a great communicator he is! It turns out, though, that he is also a great salesman (- is there a distinction? No.). I heard his voice today on Newstalk selling the programme in a perfect advertising tone, and even using a catch phrase that smarmy copywriters would charge big money for: "Just because it's history, doesn't mean it's dead". (I'm not crazy about it myself, Patrick, but it probably does the job!)

We're all selling something, even historians. Caveat emptor!

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