I’ve been following this discussion and like the rest of you, have found it fascinating reading. It seems that every generation has to re-invent the art of writing history, both in style and function.
And of course, how much of bad history is simply bad writing or inept historiography? The many authors can’t all be Muir’s or Smith's or Urban’s or Duffy’s, just as all published novelists can’t all be Nora Roberts or Dean Koontz. There’s no cure for that. To be fair to Petre, he was writing for a far different audience both culturally and chronologically. Any number of military history books written at the same time as Petre’s use the identical forms for describing army movements and battles
There are period ‘templates’ and expected forms to writing in past generations that we current readers all find ‘turgid’ to say the least. I’ve been reading some British histories written by contemporaries of Wellington. Gad Zooks, what a convoluted lot they were. They seemed to think the only sentences worth writing were the ones that used up half a page and twenty commas.
Now having said that, the questions that have been tossed around about “bad history” here have ALL been addressed by historians and researchers. The questions are really either technical or one concerning the author’s goals. For instance, the reasons for using footnotes and when they are ‘necessary’ has gotten a lot of attention by historians. It’s not surprising, as intellectual tools, they have been a pain in the butt for more than two centuries. There are a number of works that deal with the issues, but I have never seen a better presentation of the issues and solutions that the 1959 book, “The Modern Researcher” by Barzun and Graff.
While there are hundreds of valid reasons for writing history and a hundred different approaches, the technical aspects are fairly uniform and limited. They are not all clearly addressed and answered, to be sure, but most are. No point in reinventing the wheel.