The Book: Because Tweets Aren't Always Enough

Friday, April 24, 2015

Michel Ducharme, University of British Columbia

Despite the technological developments of recent years that have profoundly transformed the way we communicate, the book is still an indispensible tool for researchers in the humanities and social sciences who want to disseminate the results of their research. Perhaps the book has neither the energy of a documentary nor the pithiness of an article, not to mention the spontaneity of a blog or a website, but nothing compares to it when it comes to depth of reflection and analysis.

That which is true for humanists and social scientists in general is particularly true for historians. The book gives us the possibility of studying questions that are much more ambitious than those we tackle in journal articles, and allows us to give answers that are much more complex and much larger in scope. It allows us to develop more sophisticated queries, to better contextualize the problems we are looking at, and to analyze them from different perspectives. It encourages us to undertake research that is more exhaustive, to develop more nuanced interpretations, and to further synthesize knowledge. In sum, more than any other method of sharing knowledge, the book allows us to better apprehend the complexity of the past.

In parallel, the book gives us the possibility of developing our ability to create a narrative, to set the scene for our discoveries, to play with language, in short to tell a story. The possibility that the book offers of conveying the results of our research through a narrative, where form isn't sacrificed to content, allows us to reach an audience beyond the handful of specialists in our subject area. While the readership of scholarly books will always remain limited, it is worth noting that history books that are well structured and pleasant to read are still the platform of choice for communicating with an educated public.

If the book seems to be out of step with the obsession with immediacy, the circulation of unverified and poorly digested information, and the attraction to novelty that characterizes our world, it remains for historians, and all researchers in the humanities and social sciences, an exceptional way to disseminate knowledge. If it didn't exist, it would have to be invented.

Michel Ducharme is a professor of history at the University of British Columbia. He is the author of Le concept de liberté au Canada à l’époque des Révolutions atlantiques, 1776-1838, which won the 2012 Prix du Canada en sciences sociales. This book, as well as its translation received funding from the Federation's Awards to Scholarly Publications Program. He is also a member of the Publications Board of UBC Press.