It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young academic in possession of a PhD must be in want of a journal where at least a chapter might be published. But the object investigated is usually so obscure that a bit of sexing up is perfectly understandable. Hence opening lines such as: ‘Curiously enough no one has so far examined the role played by the partially disabled Mr L John Silver in the bureaucratic reorganisation of the Royal Navy in the first half of the eighteenth century – a role which was of some significance to both treasure seekers and rum distillers.’ And it just so happens that a cache of Mr Silver’s letters, previously overlooked by historians, has been recently found in the archives. The rest, literally, is history.
Others, already safely ensconced in academia, adopt a different strategy. Like the author of Streetlife, they take a big subject, such as European cities in the twentieth century, and proceed to make audacious claims in the form of subtitles such as ‘The Untold History of Europe’s Twentieth Century’.