One model I've found for how to do this might be David Howarth's 1066. While not a professional scholar, his treatment (I am told) gained a permanent place in the larger conversation going on about his topic. If this were Roman History, and if there were a long, sliding scale between works like Ronald Syme's two volume Tacitus and Robert Graves' fictitious I, Claudius - a book like 1066 probably fits somewhere not too far from the exact middle. It's a popular history that nevertheless aspires to high academic standards and perhaps even to stand among related scholarship as a modest
Here are some excerpts from Howarth's Preface that explain what I'm thinking about doing with 4 BC:
"This book is not about the historical importance of the year, it is simply about the tremendous drama [that took place] ... [it] is not meant to be read as a work of scholarship, only as an evocation... but I hope it is accurate enough to satisfy scholars.The whole preface is something I read often. His summary critique of biases among the earliest sources is itself very interesting. Obviously, I also like the fact that he's focused on the events of a single Year. For the record, Howarth didn't include a full bibliography or cite any recent scholarship (to 1978) but listed twenty contemporary works from 1050 to 1245, his only ostensible sources.
"Strictly speaking, every sentence in a story nine centuries old should include the word perhaps: nothing is perfectly certain. But that would be boring, and I have left out the qualification whenever things seem reasonably certain... Sometimes I have made a guess, but not without saying so.
"Better scholars might say I have gone too far in trying to draw the characters of the people of 1066; but I think this is the most enjoyable part of history. ... I think it is possible, using every scrap of information, to make a worth-while portrait of each of the leading actors in the drama. ... I have not tried to hide this blatant prejudice, but I hope my portraits are fair enough to let anyone else disagree with me.
According to the paperback blurbs, the Boston Globe called it "literate popular history", a dramatic account with a sensible conclusion. And the New Yorker called it "a model of scholarly popular history". Overall, that's extremely impressive, especially if the story is true that it still commands some attention from professional scholars. Seriously, I should hope for so much.
At any rate, my plan for this summer is to blog less and write more. If it's a very good summer, I might just finish this new version of 4 BC. Or maybe something similar, but bigger. I'm not sure just yet. We'll see how it goes.
Watch this space...