This will mainly be of interest only to historians and other academics.
It strikes me that there are two ways of conceiving what historians do. Most active, much-published historians see themselves as engaged in a conversation. They discuss and debate the past with other historians, mainly those who are their contemporaries. They take positions within this conversation, try to change its direction, strive to be relevant to what their peers are interested in. For many (but not all) historians this conversation is largely political, both in a philosophical sense and in the sense of contemporary party politics and university power struggles.
Other historians see themselves as engaged primarily in an encounter with the past. By reading old things, they try to understand what happened a long time ago. They like to imagine themselves working essentially alone, and they understand their work as a personal encounter with documents that often become dear to their hearts.
Now, obviously, even the most contemporary-minded historian has some contact with the past, and no scholar is so lonely that his work is not influenced by the ideas and trends of his day. But I find that keeping this distinction in mind explains much that happens among historians.
For example, I recently had an article rejected because I had not included sufficient discussion of contemporary scholarship that the editor considered relevant. I would have been much more miffed had I not instantly spotted the editor as one of those historians most engaged in history as a conversation; I had not located myself within any ongoing conversation, therefore what I said had no relevance. To me, nothing being said in the journals makes much difference to this particular piece of work, which grew very directly out of the eight months I spent in the Public Record Office reading medieval court rolls. The sense of medieval life I got from that reading was strikingly different from the sense I got from the major secondary works I read before going to London, most of them decades old. What I was trying to do was to explain in consecutive paragraphs a sense I got from the documents of what life was like in 14th-century England.
I don't bring this up to complain; there are plenty of historians who feel as I do about the contemporary conversation, and I am sure I could find someone who would be happy to publish my article if I tried harder. Or, if I wanted to stick with this journal, I could easily gin up some paragraphs on recent scholarship. I mention this because it was pondering the very different ways this editor and I see historians' work that helped me clarify how I feel about the contemporary academic scene.