The Romantic Myth of the Solitary Scholar

Despite the myth of a lone genius toiling away into the night, history is a collective endeavour.

Every so often, a familiar type of story goes around the press about a new ‘discovery’ in the humanities. Novelty is the aspect of academic research that the media finds newsworthy. The framing of such stories often describes ‘lost documents in the archives, brought to light for the very first time’ or ‘new data which no one had thought to collect before’.

On closer examination it frequently turns out that what is supposedly new about the research is not quite as novel as the headlines make it sound; sometimes the trumpeted discovery turns out to have a rather hazy relationship to the research which inspired the story.

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