When I began writing seriously at the end of the 1990s, I was face with a choice. In 1999, just before Christmas I defended my PhD dissertation and obtained my academic union card. At that time I was also working on a popular history for a group of Professional Engineers. They had been floundering trying to produce a millennium history of engineering achievements in the Hamilton/Burlington area – the western end of Lake Ontario. Through someone I knew, whose husband was on their committee, I managed to get hired to write it for them. Meantime, I was also writing an article for a major academic journal, histoire sociale/Social History. The popular book: By Design: The Role of the Engineer in the History of the Hamilton/Burlington Area.
The academic article: Edward Smith. “Working Class Anglicans: Religion and Identity in Victorian and Edwardian Hamilton, Ontario.” Histoire sociale/Social History vol. XXXVI (no. 71) Mai-May 2003, 123-144.
I had two roads to follow – popular writing, or academic writing. The purpose of academic writing is to get you tenure, or to increase your place on the pay grid if you are already tenured, and to make a name amongst academics. Oh, yes, and also to increase our understanding of human nature….
The purpose of writing popular histories is to inform others of the roots of human society – to expand understanding of ourselves to ourselves, and to entertain.
Well, I chose popular writing – on the one hand I was patted on the head for the academic article, but it had no impact on any chance of getting full time work in acadaemia as there are sooo many History PhDs floating around out there…. on the other, the engineers were pleased with the book and paid me $40,000.
I am working on an academic opus – but only because the topic interests me greatly and I want to produce a book length essay exploring the relationship between religion and society – primarily at the level of ordinary people. Most of my writing is reserved for poetry and my multimedia novel project.