Coming to Civil War history for the first time (after 30 years of deep reading in modern European history and the philosophy of history), I was struck - as everyone new to the field must be - by the number of self-activated writers. Buffs. Hobbyists. Dilettantes. Independent scholars. And what a good thing that is.

The famous European and military history author John Lukacs, in the course of an interview with Humanities (January/February 2003), is quite clear on this and rather down on professors:

Lukacs: The bad thing is that often the [history] specialist is not really very much interested in what he's doing. He has picked a specialty because he thinks that this will further him in his profession. The true specialist is an eccentric: he is someone who is really and deeply interested in something about which he wants to know more and more.

Humanities: Almost obsessed?

Lukacs: Yes. The more he knows, he finds that the less he knows. [...] Again, at the risk perhaps of lack of charity, I suspect that the people who do it [academic careers] are interested in their historianship rather than in history.

Humanities: In other words, in the professional side of their career rather than in the substance of the work.

Lukacs: Yes. In their standing among their peers. There are all kinds of minuscule privileges that come in academic life. Nobody is immune to it. But if the entire emphasis on your ambition and your mental interest is directed there, that is a deep loss.

I can't speak for all eccentrics, but thank you John Lukacs.