Using a Public Historian for my Book

I just found out that the yellow bird I always called a promontory warbler is really a prothonotary warbler.

Susan Ferentinos
Susan Ferentinos

That’s just one of the many ways that Susan Ferentinos, a public historian, has improved my book, Forests, Alligators, Battlefields: My Journey through the National Parks of the South.

I call myself a “history user”, you know, like a computer user, but I still needed a professional historian.

Public historians are those folks who work with history outside of the classrooms. They might work in a museum, park, and even a film set. I love this sentence from the public history website.

Those who don’t always remember their high school and college history classes fondly are often the same people who spend holidays, vacations, and their spare time seeking out history by choice: making pilgrimages to battlefields and memorials, visiting museums, watching television documentaries, volunteering with historical societies, participating in a community history project, and researching family histories.

Every nonfiction book needs a content editor, someone who will check the names, dates and descriptions of factual events. But Susan went above and beyond. She pointed out places where the text could be clearer. She also made suggestions on where though I’m technically correct, I may leave a reader with a wrong impression.

Mt. Locust on the Natchez Trace
Mt. Locust on the Natchez Trace

Dates in the same national park can differ by a year or two, which I find frustrating. When I first started this project I took every sign and every date in the national park as gospel. But in the same park, you could have four different dates for an event.

1.  Ranger’s comments
2.  Park sign
3.  Website
4.  printed pamphlet

So I have to decide on one date, either from the website or the pamphlet. Even names can be spelled differently in various sources. Baffling, sometimes, but Susan helped me work this out. Thanks, Susan for your meticulous work.

Of course, as they say, I’m responsible for any errors that might remain in my book.

2 thoughts on “Using a Public Historian for my Book

  1. Danny, it was a pleasure working with you! Like all public historians, I’m dedicated to “putting history to work in the world.” Your book provides intriguing glimpses to the past and conveys your love of the national parks. I am happy to have been part of the process.

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