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Old August 5th, 2010, 02:25 PM   #51

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Re: History and Historians


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Originally Posted by corrocamino View Post
Just "regardless", not "irregardless".
Thanks...but it could have been done through PM.
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Old August 6th, 2010, 08:44 AM   #52
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Re: History and Historians


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Originally Posted by avon View Post
I agree with your response to Rosi. This point is best exemplified by comparing Alan Bullock's interpretation of Hitler at the space of four decades. (I use this example because I know that Rosi has read one of these!)

Compare:
Alan Bullock, Hitler: A Study in Tyranny, (London, 1952).
with:
Alan Bullock, Hitler and Stalin: Parallel Lives, (London, 1991).
In the former, Bullock is a decided intentionalist. By the time he came to write the Hitler and Stalin, he had openly and honestly come around to a measure of structuralism. He was a brilliant historian.
I thought those were two separate books, meaning one was not a revised edition of the previous one though the author may have revised his views. So, generally speaking, in the light of the later editions the previous ones stand null and void?


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Does 'truth' really matter? I always work on the thesis that the question is what matters, not the answer. The art of finding out what you can is the chase, and that's what counts ... for me, at least!
I'm fine with never knowing the "truth" but I like to know the nature of the beast I'm dealing with. Fiction and truth both have their charms, I just don't like one masquerading as the other.
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Old August 6th, 2010, 08:51 AM   #53

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Re: History and Historians


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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
I thought those were two separate books, meaning one was not a revised edition of the previous one though the author may have revised his views. So, generally speaking, in the light of the later editions the previous ones stand null and void?
They are seperate books. The point is that both books have been applauded by academics and both remain seminal texts on Hitler. However, over the course of 40 or so years, Bullock changed his whole perspective on Hitler and did so honestly and publicly.
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Old August 6th, 2010, 09:09 AM   #54
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Re: History and Historians


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You are spot on about narratives. Narratives tend to be more biased (usually based on political affiliation) than a specialized piece. Have you had an opportunity to read a specialized work?
How do you mean? I'm not sure I understand what 'specialized work' refers to?

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Like all sciences, history is not exact...so you take it as it comes. You may take a stand on an issue, but that doesn't mean its going to be your final stand. A historian may write another book or come out with that same book that has new material (also known as the 2nd edition) based on a reinterpretation of events.
That's not quite what I meant. You may change your views later on, it happens all the time. I was specifically referring to an author taking a stand on any given topic at the time of writing a book on a historical topic. That stand has to be clear and definite. What happens later is of no consequence at this time. For you to answer the editor's question of "what is your point here?" you will have to make an argument that is compelling, which will only happen when your stand on the issue is clear and firm and well reflected in your writing. When you do that chances are you will find it difficult to be entirely objective. It's not impossible, but tricky, like I said.

For instance you're writing a book on the American nuke bombing of Japan in WW2. It's not something you could cover without taking a stand. Merely giving the facts from both sides, no matter how conscientously done, will leave the book bland if that's all that has been done. We don't just want a steady flow of historical data, like corporate tickers showing the movement of stocks. Like Black Dog said, history is about ideas and interpretations. We are interpreting what happened and that interpretation will only take place when we take a stand on the issue. That makes complete objectivity a delicate and difficult balancing game. I have found that to be the case in most books on history that I have read.


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Actually, we use that phrase all the time. The fact is we really don't know. None of us were there so we have to rely on the accounts of others...many of whom have their own biases and problems.
You may not know everything or anything with a 100% certainty, but you still have to convince your editor and then your readership via your book that you are reasonably certain of what you have presented, about as certain as you could be given the limitations of the data and keeping in mind all the possible explanations, and it's on this assurance that the book will see the light of the day. That's the context in which I used the "We don't really know" argument. I guess it's just a matter of semantics, there isn't much to be argued here.


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Are we doomed to never finding the truth? Probably...but coming up with a likely scenario of how things were or how an event turned out is the closest thing we can get to the truth.
I agree.
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Old August 12th, 2010, 03:42 PM   #55

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Re: History and Historians


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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
How do you mean? I'm not sure I understand what 'specialized work' refers to?
Narratives tend to be more like surveys and biographies (although not always). A specialized work is something that gets to the very heart of a specific concept. For example:

http://books.google.com/books?id=E45...page&q&f=false

This book is about the Reformation...however, the work tends to focus on one village in England rather than the general basics of the Reformation throughout Europe. Narratives do not usually go into this much detail and rely heavily on secondary source material...where as a specialized work will place more focus on the use of primary source documents.



Quote:
Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
That's not quite what I meant. You may change your views later on, it happens all the time. I was specifically referring to an author taking a stand on any given topic at the time of writing a book on a historical topic. That stand has to be clear and definite. What happens later is of no consequence at this time. For you to answer the editor's question of "what is your point here?" you will have to make an argument that is compelling, which will only happen when your stand on the issue is clear and firm and well reflected in your writing. When you do that chances are you will find it difficult to be entirely objective. It's not impossible, but tricky, like I said.

For instance you're writing a book on the American nuke bombing of Japan in WW2. It's not something you could cover without taking a stand. Merely giving the facts from both sides, no matter how conscientously done, will leave the book bland if that's all that has been done. We don't just want a steady flow of historical data, like corporate tickers showing the movement of stocks. Like Black Dog said, history is about ideas and interpretations. We are interpreting what happened and that interpretation will only take place when we take a stand on the issue. That makes complete objectivity a delicate and difficult balancing game. I have found that to be the case in most books on history that I have read.
I see what you mean. Yes, in that instance it would be like walking a tight rope. Keep this in mind though...one of the reasons why you probably don't see a lot of specialized works is because a lot of them were published in obscurity...meaning the historian wasn't willing to bend to the editor or publisher for the sake of entertainment. (Which is why some historians have their books published at their own universities, if available)

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Originally Posted by Rosicrucian View Post
You may not know everything or anything with a 100% certainty, but you still have to convince your editor and then your readership via your book that you are reasonably certain of what you have presented, about as certain as you could be given the limitations of the data and keeping in mind all the possible explanations, and it's on this assurance that the book will see the light of the day. That's the context in which I used the "We don't really know" argument. I guess it's just a matter of semantics, there isn't much to be argued here.
It could be semantics...but keep this in mind as well...We see a lot of different books that simply would not categorize as a strong historical work, yet get published because of the popularity of the subject or content. Good examples of this are books associated with the Knights Templar, the Freemasons, Ancient Aliens, etc.
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Old August 12th, 2010, 07:28 PM   #56

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Re: History and Historians


I wouldn't even say that I'm an amateur historian. Just a history buff who finds something that interests me and sets me to finding answers. The problem I have with sources is that I consider the accounts and documents of the comtemporaries of an event as the best information on that event, yet I get frustrated encountering opinions of historians on what happened and who procede to bombard the reader with sources that really are no more than opinions supporting their own. Consequently, I tend to look at events that I actually lived myself, which I know I can spot the red herrings of opinion. I do read a great deal of the history of other eras, but always look to contempory accounts as my primary source. Not sure I expressed that well.
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Old August 13th, 2010, 01:19 AM   #57

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Re: History and Historians


Primary sources (first hand accounts) may be just as biased as any other, as per my account in the original post. See my example of Norman vs English accounts of the Norman conquest.

SKY or CNN give first hand accounts. Would you say that they were 100% unbiased? Would you expect Red China's newspapers to give unbiased accounts? Individuals are no different.

That some historians twist facts to suit their own prejudices is true and I agree, it is wrong. But know your man (or woman), and you should be able to spot their bias. Reading widely is another way to gain different perspectives. Often, too, an outsider can see things better than an insider, and whilst the passage of time can distort, it can also clarify by detaching the historian from the times he is studying.

Beware, also, of 21st century value judgements. I've read books where Elizabeth I was touted as a feminist: pure nonsense. One has to try and judge people largely by the standards of their own time: example: Hitler's racism was not quite so abhorrent in the 1930's as it would be today, since we're all less responsive to racist arguments than in the 30's.

Even your own experiences will not be entirely free from bias: I do not think that anyone's are. If you're right wing, you'll see things with a right wing bias, and if you're left, then the same applies. Example: Obama's abortive attempt to give America health care. Rightists will scream blue murder: leftists will say "about time". Then you have a range of opinions in between. History, in 20 years time, may well see it more clearly.
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Old August 13th, 2010, 01:33 AM   #58

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Re: History and Historians


I agree BD: The myth of "objective" accounts must go the way of the buggy whip. No writer is a robot, and many attempts I have read to be "impartial" were perhaps so in their day in a comparative sense, but would not be considered so today.

Wide reading, researching the "opponent's" material will help, but ONLY an open mind can winnow out the husks.

Last edited by crossroadclarence; August 13th, 2010 at 01:49 AM.
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Old August 13th, 2010, 01:33 AM   #59
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Re: History and Historians


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History, in 20 years time, may well see it more clearly.
...which is why things historical of all vintages still are argued from black and white polar extremes today, in books, in classrooms, and at Historum?
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Old August 13th, 2010, 01:38 AM   #60

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Re: History and Historians


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.which is why things historical of all vintages still are argued from black and white polar extremes today, in books, in classrooms, and at Historum?
Don't be awkward

True, though, but I guess that's human nature. Things tend to be just as black and white in "real time", too. Rightists see things with no concessions to the other side, and leftists, the same.
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