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Kishlansky Talks on Writing

Historian Explains Different Styles in First Lecture of Series

By Justin D. Lerer

Professor of History Mark A. Kishlansky spoke about the difficulties of writing about history yesterday before an overflowing audience of approximately 175 students and faculty in Boylston Auditorium.

"If you could bottle this stuff, someone would already hold the patent," Kishlansky said.

Kishlansky said only 60 of every 1,000 graduate students in history will become publishing historians.

Kishlansky's address, titled "A Matter of Arrangement: Writing as an Historian," was the inaugural Gordon Gray Faculty Lecture on The Craft of Scholarly Writing.

With audience members packing the seats, standing at the back of the auditorium and sitting in the aisles, Kishlansky discussed different types of history writing, such as textbook and encyclopedia writing.

Kishlansky said textbook writing requires the discipline to stick to commercial plans, the formation of a specific writing plan and the willingness to set one's ego aside in order to work with others.

He singled out his writing for the Encyclopedia Britannica as an especially interesting example of writing for a general audience.

An encyclopedia writer is confined by a strict length limit and is also expected to write with a voice of absolute authority different from the one used in scholarly texts, he said.

Kishlansky said his scholarly writing often follows a serendipitous path. He said his first book and most recent article were the result of "twists of scholarship" which drew him away from his original subjects.

"When I go to work in the archives, I go with an open mind," he said.

Kishlansky described himself as obsessed with knowing and discover- ing everything he can about a subject.

"In my defense, there are people with this obsession all over the world," he said.

Kishlansky also addressed the actual mechanics of his writing.

"When I know what I want to say, my fingers fly across the keyboard," he said.

But he admitted he sometimes spends his uninspired moments in front of the glow of the television.

"My solace comes out of a tube, not a bottle," he said. Reaction to Kishlansky's lecture was overwhelmingly positive, as he elicited frequent laughter from the audience.

"I thought it was great," said Polly C. Brown '97, a history concentrator. "I really enjoyed seeing a history faculty member unbend."

"As a practicing historian, it was a description of what I do, and worse yet, it was a description of how I do it," said Peter Buck, senior lecturer on the history of science and dean of the summer school.

The lecture series, funded by a gift from Gordon Gray Jr. '65, is the result of student interest in hearing their professors talk about the writing process, according to Sosland Director of Expository Writing Nancy Sommers.

Sommers said she will publish the lectures, which will be given once a semester

"In my defense, there are people with this obsession all over the world," he said.

Kishlansky also addressed the actual mechanics of his writing.

"When I know what I want to say, my fingers fly across the keyboard," he said.

But he admitted he sometimes spends his uninspired moments in front of the glow of the television.

"My solace comes out of a tube, not a bottle," he said. Reaction to Kishlansky's lecture was overwhelmingly positive, as he elicited frequent laughter from the audience.

"I thought it was great," said Polly C. Brown '97, a history concentrator. "I really enjoyed seeing a history faculty member unbend."

"As a practicing historian, it was a description of what I do, and worse yet, it was a description of how I do it," said Peter Buck, senior lecturer on the history of science and dean of the summer school.

The lecture series, funded by a gift from Gordon Gray Jr. '65, is the result of student interest in hearing their professors talk about the writing process, according to Sosland Director of Expository Writing Nancy Sommers.

Sommers said she will publish the lectures, which will be given once a semester

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