Question. Does Historiography use a standard technical term for the following (commonly encountered) 'mode' of historical writing?

  • The author, towards the beginning of the work, tells the reader a rather sketchy list of 'sources' that allegedly were the basis for the main text, maybe even without precise references, and then blissfully sets about weaving the narrative, without ever (or: hardly ever) giving any precise reference for the more contentious/dubious factual claims in the text.


  • I am not a professional historian. I am more-or-less aware of the fact that it is a much-discussed topic, since antiquity, whether a historian should be a narrator shaping the subject matter, possibly with some distortions/guesses/gullibility-for-the-usual-possibly-apocryphal-stories, or should rather painstakingly stick to what can be substantiated by primary sources and always either abstain from making a claim or give a reference. And of course I am aware that with the second mode of writing, one is much slower, and sometimes cannot say much at all. This question is not asking for a normative discussion of this old debate, rather only for whether there are recognizable technical terms for these modes of historical writing.
  • 2
    It's called fiction
    – Stevetech
    Sep 16, 2017 at 20:25
  • Popular history?
    – liftarn
    Sep 18, 2017 at 8:03
  • "Historical fiction" "fiction" or "lies." Aug 10, 2018 at 8:47

1 Answer 1


You identify academic writing as that which has primary citations throughout. I would argue that references to secondary sources are fine too. Indeed, citation for specific claims is an important feature of scholarly historical writing.

Authors who write about history without the annotations produce works that are not very useful for further study. That is why scholarly texts always have copious citations. A term for the texts you want described is unscholarly or non-scholarly.

Check out a guide to distinguishing sources with an eye to distinguishing between the modes. NB that one hallmark of non-scholarly work is that it is written for a wide audience.

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