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Some historians appear to practice history professionally, in the sense that they produce histories that are accepted by other historians as "real" and "full." In this sense there is a profession of sorts, and exclusive body of persons who determine who may enter into appropriate practice.

However, there are many persons who lack this stamp of legitimacy who happen to speculate about, read about, or write about the past. Some appear to publish major works of non-fiction that HarperCollins might claim is a history. How can the difference between the amateur and the professional be detected when professionals also publish in HarperCollins (for example).

What are the criteria of professionality in history and which are fundamental?

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Doesn't it usually come down down to education (as in "professional" education), like a degree in history? IMO this gives you most of the answer, although what is considered "good" education changes with place and time (e.g. a history degree from former East Germany not much worth in Germany these days). Now there are also gifted amateurs, of course (e.g. Winston Chuchill), but you were not asking about those. – Drux May 29 '13 at 8:18
I think you can differentiate between the two groups by checking for the existence of papers published in peer-reviewed journals. – Felix Goldberg May 29 '13 at 8:32
I would say that Churchill was a "historian" because he PRACTICED history (and wrote about it later). In his case, a lot of "history" was actually autobiographical. – Tom Au May 29 '13 at 12:32
What's the difference between a serious (professional) historian and a celebrity (professional) historian. Hint: fancy academic affiliations and even peer-reviewed articles won't be much help in making the cut IMHO (e.g. Niall Ferguson, ahem :) – Drux May 30 '13 at 9:24
A professional performs for profit; and an amateur performs for pleasure. There is some overlap. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 22 '13 at 19:37
up vote 5 down vote accepted

What are the criteria of professionality in history and which are fundamental?

First thing you need to look for is the bibliography and endnotes/footnotes. Archival research is a must for professional historians when they are writing their dissertation, which eventually becomes their first manuscript/book. As well, they have to discuss and incorporate theory and methodology. Later in their careers they can, if they so choose, write books mainly based on secondary literature. Such books can do one of two things; they can challenge an accepted narrative/paradigm or simply create a general history for those interested in a specific subject. Most authors who write about history but have not been educated at the graduate level in history will not have a good grasp of theory and methodology and will, unfortunately, add little to nothing to our understanding of specific historical events/ideas/people/etc. that they choose to write about.

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The notion that being a professional inherently implies that one is better educated, more intelligent, or more disciplined is ridiculous. One becomes a professional by being paid, and the standards of the performance say much more about the employer than the employee. Lots of crappy work gets done by professionals, and much of significant value is done for the sheer love of it by amateurs. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 22 '13 at 19:41
You point out very valid criteria for judging the quality of the product, but I dispute that this is at all related to being a professional, as in receiving pay for one's work. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 22 '13 at 19:44
@PieterGeerkens but you are stickying to the letter of the question, while the spirit was clearly quite different. – o0'. Dec 22 '13 at 20:38

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