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NYTimes.com Article: The Public Editor: The Privileges of Opinion, the Obligatio

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  • Deborah
    Ah, the role and responsibility of the historian. Interesting topic. Historians don t work with facts. They work with evidence. Written evidence: letters,
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 6, 2004
      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
      preserved.

      Created evidence: interviews with the actors who participated in an
      event. Especially common in military history, but turns up in other
      fields.

      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
      complete bibliography.

      Deborah
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