Discover more from JDBCOM in your In-Box
Historiography in America
To quote Wikipedia:
In the early modern period, the term historiography meant "the writing of history", and historiographer meant "historian". In that sense, certain official historians were given the title "Historiographer Royal" in Sweden (from 1618), England (from 1660), and Scotland (from 1681). The Scottish post is still in existence.
Historiography was more recently defined as "the study of the way history has been and is written—the history of historical writing,” which means that, "when you study 'historiography' you do not study the events of the past directly, but the changing interpretations of those events in the works of individual historians.”
Writing history isn’t rocket science, but it is pretty hard work, especially when you run into things like the screenshot below. I was looking for In Defense of Civilization: How Our Past Can Renew Our Present by Michael RJ Bonner at my local library. It is a work of opinion, largely, that advocates a return to the values and duties of the past. I went to my local library’s catalog to see if I could find it…and I found…
I was concerned first that what I wanted wasn’t at the library. But it bemused me because the catalog prompted me to look for in defense of globalization, the exact opposite of Bonner’s theme. It also gave me, as a first alternate choice, The 1619 Project, a completely ahistorical work that makes a mockery of the concept of history and its study by making many mountains out of a few molehills based on feelings, not facts. Pinker’s Enlightenment Now is a tour de force of a modern culture that defines words and concepts in ways that make anyone from a century ago say… “what?” Ben Shapiro’s got a bug up his nose most of the time about the degeneration of what he believes to be “culture,” but in How To Destroy America he’s really on a tear.
If this is Artificial Intelligence, we’re doomed.
All these are works of opinion, but none are even close to what I’m looking for. Normally, the database would offer me something close to my title, but not this time. While some might defend 1619, their defense is based not on facts of the past of the past but on feelings in the present. Yes, what I’m looking for is based on feelings/opinions as well, but…yes, 1619 amounts to an opinion, as well, since the author backs up no claims with facts. But ya gotta ask…why any of these works were written?
That’s Historiography 101
The 1619 Project will be a hard nut to crack because asking such questions opens the enquirer up to charges of racism these days because the writer is African-American. The other three, however, are written by Euro-Americans, who, according to some, are racists, anyway. We cannot question the motives of the first author in the current environment. And for the same reasons, we must assume the other three to have agendas commensurate with their so-called “race.”
Regardless of their historical context, we cannot question why or how these works were written.
Historians, like many other professionals, toil in the dark spaces where those not in their profession fear venturing. They dig into sources, ask questions that seem at first to be pointless, publish obscure papers and essays on parts of their research that can baffle those outside their rather narrow fields. Some might ask why inkwells in the 18th Century were so important as to warrant a 400k body of research…but at least one scholar undertook the work, anyway. I mean, who really needs to know the attitudes of button-makers to tailors in 12th Century Italy? Why would the needs of rural pig-keepers be important to bargemen in Tudor England, and why did a gal write a thesis on it? If it were all that all-fired important, why didn’t the builders of 19th century western river steamboats make drawings of the vessels they made, and why did I ask why not? These questions we cannot answer with any accuracy.
But we should be able to ask.
The 18th Century inkwell lent itself to the creation of the first handmade metal nib pens and later changed the construction of both. The button itself was a new creation in 12th Century Italy; a decoration that many tailors saw as a distraction from their decorative needlework. Pork was a vital resource in Tudor England, but moving live pigs on canal barges was messy, which led to the first unmanned barges towed by horses alongside the canals, which widened the paths enough for 19th century steam engines on rails to use them. The builders of steamboats were often illiterate and filling orders on-the-fly for something that was needed now, not after they made drawings. All these things are important in themselves, and their researchers are ready for the answers.
Not so much as soon as you insert “race” into the topic.
There is not a single part of the study of the past that is immune to examination through a lens of race or racism. American universities now insist that their students use this lens—and gender, sex, sexual identity, nationality and class—in every essay topic. Doing so answers the question of why…supposedly. These essays—from a simple 500 word assignment to doctoral dissertations—cannot be questioned, interrogated, or investigated. Their supposed focus on hot-button issues of the early 21st Century makes them immune to questioning…or further investigation of the topic.
Thus, historiography in the American academy dies. RIP.
The Past Not Taken is, as some of you know, about how we write history, and how we distort, misstate, and ignore it for compelling, political, academic, personal, public and crackbrained reasons.
While we know that “history” isn’t fixed because history is the interpretation of the past, The Past Not Taken shows first what the past is/was, then how it is recorded, interpreted, and used.
Shiloh in Popular Media
On 22 July:
1862: President Lincoln gives his Draft Emancipation Proclamation to his cabinet. Presented as a war measure, it freed the slaves wherever the Union Army wasn’t in slaveholding territory. It was meant to deprive the Confederacy of their labor force, but also had the effect of defining the status of former slaves as they entered Union lines.
1916: A suitcase bomb during a Preparedness Day parade in San Francisco leaves ten dead and forty injured. Two prominent labor leaders were arrested and convicted for the worst terror attack in San Francisco's history, which resulted in the death of ten people and injury of forty others. Since the authorities exonerated the two, they have never solved the crime.
And today is NATIONAL HAMMOCK DAY, for those of you who have the space and the time to just literally hang out…yeah, I meant that…