Agree/disagree with your view. Actually I think that really exciting, interesting, good history is being written today of an excellenet standard and without the aridity and pompousness that sometimes characterised very valuable contributions 100 years ago, - and that's not just because of the period they were written. The books of some contributors to this forum are egs, as are the "Longitude" genre. The standard offered to the general public today is better than at any time in history. I don't think the average member of the public ever attempted to read (say) Napier or Oman, let alone the other authors cited. These books were for the relatively small class who read "serious' books. Today that group is much, much wider.
Hi. Now, I didn't make the statement that past history is good, and present history is bad. Hans-Karl asked a tangential question that I tried to provide some possible answers for. Some of that aridity and pompousness
from the past you mention is simply the period style. And writing good history and readable history are two related questions, but two questions none the less.
If you are comparing past history to present, this is what I would say pro and con to that is as follows:
Pro: Historians from about 1880 to the Depression were concerned about the craft as a profession. They looked at it scientifically in the sense that they saw all historians working to add more and more certainty to the historical record, a little bit at a time. Not because they felt they would reach perfection, but that they were creating a better historical record all the time. They were developing the tools and methods, philosophy and expectations that we still use today, often time unaware of it's origins.
Con: They generally believed they understood history better than past generations which was not always true, and liked to make generalizations and guesses when no data was available (Much like any number of folks today.) They definitely had a narrow view of history, made up of kings and empires, civilization and major events.
Pro: They have widened the spectrum of historical research, and have asked new questions. They have also attempted to combine the disciplines of Archeology and science in very exciting ways. For instance, they are writing about the individual's experience in battle and paying more attention to oral histories and other kinds of physical evidence.
Con: Historians have become divided between academics and populists to a large degree. There are far more people writing history today, and reaching far more people because of the media, more literacy and there are more people by triple the numbers. I think the biggest problem is that because of the isolation of academics and the increase in the numbers of folks writing history, the skills and methods of historiography have been lost by both groups. We find folks saying something is good history simply because it is a fun or has challenging ideas, but is really poor history.
And who cares whether it is 'good history', if the readers enjoyed it and the publishers make money? The problem was that historians in the past were asking themselves what creates effective historiography and then building some methods to achieve it. Now historians often don't see themselves as historians and let the public tell them what good history is with the pocket book, and that is almost a definition of relativism. I would think that it would be reasonable to have some kind of compromise in the middle, for history's sake.
Having said that, I agree that there are still any number of very fine histories today, if only because there are so many more histories--it ups the odds, so to speak. Again, this is just my take on the issues.