NYTimes.com Article: The Public Editor: The Privileges of Opinion, the Obligatio
- Ah, the role and responsibility of the historian. Interesting topic.
Historians don't work with facts. They work with evidence.
Written evidence: letters, diaries, contemporary history,
contemporary articles, and so forth.
Archaeological evidence: physical artifacts whether recovered or
Created evidence: interviews with the actors who participated in an
event. Especially common in military history, but turns up in other
Once historians have the evidence, what do they do with it? A lot of
the time they simply carefully compile and organize the evidence and
then offer a small and narrow thesis. I was recently looking at
medieval watermills as an example of a research topic. The available
data has kindly been organized and analyzed by historians and
archaeologists. This makes it possible for the bigger thinking
historians, Braudel being a good example, to write three large
volumes on aspects of economic life in the world between 1400 and
1800. The only way people can write "big history" is if lots of other
hardworking and largely unnoticed people write small history.
Now, let us say that I want to write a big book about cultural change
in Elizabethan England. I'm going to depend on many other historians
work compiling and organizing the fundamental data. I need to
accurately cite every single one of these other historians, indicate
exactly what I got from each of them and make it possible for anyone
who questions any piece of my thesis to track down the source and see
if it supports my argument.
I've only seen one piece by PS on any topic. It wasn't good history
writing. Does anyone have any example that meets the basic criteria
described above? As a serious reader of history, I will not treat any
work seriously that doesn't have a full set of end notes and a