Antony Beevor: A limited idea of academic success is the problem

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The Independent Online

Sir Keith Thomas is right. But the problem goes further and wider than just a dash for fame among freshly-hatched PhDs. The problem comes with all the different pressures which have evolved since Sir Keith began his distinguished career.

Governments have disastrously placed the priority and the criteria for promotion on being published rather than on being a good teacher. And having a paper come out in an academic journal is not enough to make your mark.

Academic life, like almost every aspect of modern existence, has become polarised between "success" and "failure". "Success" now means avoiding the fate of most heads of department, mired in fundraising and administration, by becoming a superstar professor in an American university with a short burst of teaching and plenty of time for writing. This, I suppose, is the latest version of the hated "tele-don".

I believe that history books which are not based on a large measure of original research by the author are a waste of time, since they do not push the boundaries of knowledge forward. But of course, as with my present book on the whole of the Second World War, the subject is so vast that one has to rely to a large degree on the work of other historians, whose help is acknowledged with gratitude.