Re: [WarOf1812] 'Fair' history, was Naval Battles
- Excellent points JG - but almost impossible to answer briefly. I am a professional historian, not of modern history (i.e. post 1750), but of ancient history, and these
questions are dogging the profession in journals and chat lists on the net.
Some random thoughts by way of an inadequate response:
1. Eyewitness accounts are not always reliable. So the search for primary sources is flawed. The interest in such primary sources, and the immense value given them,
is a result of a particular period of historiography, i.e. the 19th century. This does not make them 'wrong', but they must be read with care.
2. Deliberately interpretive, or sometimes propagandistic accounts can be closer to the 'truth', if we understand truth to be more than simply a chronological
3. The two extremes offer opposite points on a continuum. I think it is essential that the historian discover as many 'facts' as possible about the past. A simple
one, that has come up on this list, is the use of the relevant weapons for the War of 1812 - flintlocks, not percussion caps.
4. In the process of interpretation of those facts, that is, the combination of them into an historical narrative, it is incumbent on the interpreter to know and to
declare to the reader what she or he is doing with these facts.
5. One modern historian argues that 'history' is the antagonist of the historian. By that he means that whatever interpretation is given, the facts must always be
allowed to challenge it.
6. In my opinion, some modern historical interpretations of our period are flawed because they seek to impose a schema on the facts - what some call a metanarrative.
It could be as simple as 'History is progress', or 'the good guys always win', 'Manifest Destiny', etc. One current interpretation of the War, on the Canadian side, is
that it seemed to be waged for the benefit of the York Loyalist elites. A recent article in the journal 'Beaver' argues this. I would suggest that the facts do not
allow for such a facile interpretation. Nor, by the way, do they allow for the rather simplistic - British, Loyalist, Indian minority standing united against the
American invader. This was common fifty or so years ago.
7. My point is that fact and interpretation are always in dialogue, and the good historian lets the dialogue continue.
8. One of my colleagues used to say to his students, 'The first thing you ask of this book is, Now why is this person lying to me?' That creates a healthy
9. By 'fair' I mean an author that is conscious of her or his biases, but bends over backwatds to be honest with the material being interpreted.
10. Of course, one must always realise that history is an ongoing dialogue between interpreters. 'What actually happened' was once the cry of the historian. But
this has proven to be an illusion. Fact and interpretation belong together. The historian's job is to join the dialogue/. The alternative is that we say nothing to
This is probably more than I needed to say, and more than you wanted to hear. But it ain't a simple matter.
PS: The War of 1812 was in an age of increasing literacy, and proliferation of written sources. I have written a book on warfare in the ancient Near East where this was
certainly not the case. Now that was a difficult task.
> In a message dated 8/1/00 3:25:15 PM Pacific Daylight Time,
> ray.hobbs@... writes:
> << Both are highly readable, and fair,
> Hope this helps, >>
> Something unusual struck me in your answer to Rob's request. Both of the
> books that you suggest are "modern day" accounts looking through eyes that
> are basically sharing a "modern day" version of the war. Can you think of a
> version possible 50 to 100 years old that may offer the same balanced
> perspective? I suspect the answer is no.
> That begs me to ask, is our current view on the war really the right view on
> the war? How do we make this judgment without also reading all of those books
> that "we' think are slanted to the 'other sides view point'?
> History has always been accepted and written from a personal viewpoint. How
> many truly "fair' books are there out there? How do we decide as re-enactors?
> Just a thought.
> The War of 1812: In Europe, thousands fought over the fate of hundreds of square miles: in North America, hundreds determined the fate of THOUSANDS of square miles...
- In a message dated 8/7/2000 10:41:04 AM Central Daylight Time,
<< And I think that we already discussed that it was
S.O.P in those days to toast a city AFter everybody
but the rearguard had passed through, and we are in
agreement that Jackson was both pragmatic and
cold-blooded enough to stick the local boys with the
distinct oppoprtunity to defend their Gallic honor by
being tasked with the job of slowing down the Brits
"until the wounded and woman and children have been
safely moved to a place of safety (Natchez just popped
into my head<g>)"
Ah but you forget Fitz,Vincent Nalty for one had already guessed what was in
the back of Jackson's mind. Several of the locals were already very anti
Jackson so I think the idea that Jackson and the regulars would be alowed to
swan throgh town while the locals were assigned to a second defense is not in
the realm of reality. It is always wise to remember that the Ursuline Nuns
were praying for the intercession of Our Lady of Prompt Succour that the city
be saved, this is usually interpreted as praying for the defeat of the
British but that is not necessarily so!
<<BTW, I get the impression that you are familier with
historical miniatures wargaming, from your book - may
I ask what rules are currently being used there with
the group in Chalmette? Just Curious. >>
I am afraid not, I gave up wargaming when I discovered re-enactment. That
section of the book was written by someone else, its part of the Osprey
format. Personally I would have liked to put more about the battle in it.