Bryan Ward-Perkins

Bryan Ward-Perkins is privileged to use primary sources for evidence.  He starts off the first chapter explaining the Bishop of Rome’s letters to his colleagues.  The only way he could have gotten and explained the information in the letters is if Perkins was able to study them in person.  He later quotes what seams like a secondary source, based on the second person, plural used.  Perkins mostly relies on the primary source.  The letters and texts (Life of a fifth-century saint) are all primary sources and the secondary ones are based off of them.

Carl Becker’s Argument

Carl Becker argues that since “History is the memory of things said and done,” the common man is an historian.  Everyone has memories, sees things in a certain way, and imagines what will happen because of it.  History, in Becker’s argument, is anything that leads to something, including something as simple as opening a door.  After one opens the door, since it happened in the past, it becomes history.  A man becomes “his own historian” by the decisions he makes and on top of that, why and how he came to the conclusion that something should be done.

Historians can be very objective, because when writing historical facts, they write what they see and what they believe concerns them.  This being said, the things that historians write can be bias, so one can only see it from one point of view and not from what something looks like from another.

Historical Ethics

These six articles serve as a ’round table’ discussion of the problem of ethics in the field of history, and were actually fairly unnerving to read while working on my final paper, much in the way that reading about horrific car accidents can be unnerving to read while learning to drive. Nonetheless, they serve as a useful snapshot of ethical problems and solutions in the profession (albeit in 2004).

Each approached the problem from a different way, but each definitely hammered n that plagarism is, in fact, a problem. Some disagreed as to its source– in his essay, Gorn blames the marketization of history as a profession– but all agreed that it was a problem. Unfortunately, it’s often a subtle and difficult problem to find, and Michael Grossberg found it difficult to offer a solution better than “I’ll know it when I see it,” which doesn’t sit well on my shoulders.

Honestly, my favorite solution was that offered by Fox. If students feel comfortable doing original research by themselves, they may not feel the need to plagarize as pressingly. I know I could have done with some guidance in the nature of research a lot earlier than I got it; I still often feel like I don’t really know what I’m doing. I worry if that’s what even professional historians feel when they sit down with a stack of eight books about the Civil War and wonder if what they’re doing really counts.

The Lost Museum

The Lost Museum was an interesting, if somewhat aging, exercise in learning via the Internet. Though I could wax poetic about the graphics and engine that date back to the earlier part of the last decade– I’m fairly certain I played a game very similar to this in middle school– I was actually rather impressed with the documents that were linked into the game, such as the slave contract. They made the experience, for me, giving what was otherwise mildly cheesy an atmosphere of historic authenticity. That’s what interactive games and the like are best at, I find: they create immersion, helping the player to feel present and creating a sense of place that is often otherwise absent.

Non-Textual Sources

In her discussion of non-textual sources, Jenny Presnell touched on a few that I wouldn’t have considered. Music, for example, seems somewhat rare as an actual historical source– though after watching the documentary about the African song in class, I’m certainly aware that it can be one. Her discussion of photographs was interesting, as photographic history can be as fascinating and informative as the photographs themselves. For example, Matthew Brady, the famous Civil War photographer, did very little of his own work due to his partial blindness; many of his photographs were staged and taken by apprentices, one of whom was Gardener, mentioned in this chapter. Images do say a great deal, but it’s what they don’t say that is important to keep in mind– you may see everything that’s in the picture, but the picture cannot show you what is just outside its edges, or what’s behind the camera. That’s why images and text work so well together.

The Internet as a Source

Jenny Presnell’s treatment of the Internet as a source for historical research was entertaining and not as out-of-touch as most such writings tend to be. It can be almost physically painful to read well-educated scholars treating the Internet as a strange and wonderful place, so the awkwardness of phrasing is amusing in the same way a Wikipedia article about a vulgar topic can often be. Presnell, however, obviously has a degree of familiarity with the Internet, so this pitfall is avoided. Most interesting to be was the discussion of the “deep web,” even though calling it that gives the impression that it’s a separate system or even a discrete area, when in fact the term applies only to sites or information which are somewhat more difficult to reach. Additionally, I was pleased to see information (albeit somewhat anachronistic information) about listservs. In use today mostly among professionals in a few select groups, they were in wider use about a decade ago, and I’ve actually been able to use listserv archives from fifteen years ago to uncover historical information about the development of one of my favorite online games– the discussions of its developer with the developers of other games are archived there for everyone to see, offering a unique sort of primary source.

Class and Gender

It took me some time to manage to get into Lenore Davidoff’s article, Class and Gender in Victorian England. Though I was interested in the subject– gender and sexuality are fascinating topics in their own right– the introduction section stretched on for a very long time, longer than I feel was strictly necessary to introduce the necessary background to analyze the primary sources. That said, I do get the feeling the author loves the topic, to spend such a long time expounding upon it! This meant relatively easy-to-read prose, of which I am always a fan. Once the article reached the analysis of the primary sources, it tightened somewhat and was a relatively excellent analysis of the sources in question.

Literature Reviews

I’m somewhat embarrassed to say that previously I actually did not understand what the “Review” category stood for in JSTOR. (Book reviews?) Now that I’ve read the readings from Wright and Mernard, that category makes a great deal more sense– and, for that matter, literature reviews in general make a great deal more sense. Wright’s review is succinct and to the point, summarizing effectively the argument of each book he is reviewing. He doesn’t comment upon the viability of the argument or his view thereof, though he does note that that one of them draws heavily upon a now-suspect source– showing how important bibliographies and proper sourcing is to the study of history. Mernard’s review was a lot more personal than I had expected a literature review to be. He comments freely on his view of each book, making each section an actual book review within the larger lit review. As someone used to dispassionate historical writing, such definite opinionated writing surprised me, and I wonder whether that’s usual for literature reviews.

Writing Competently, and Writing as Communication

I was actually rather struck by something the authors pointed out in Writing as Communication. Like some of the others who posted before, I had always imagined that the research was the important learning process, and that because I personally tended to learn most when actually writing the paper, I was doing it wrong. It does make a good deal of sense, however, that writing serves to cement neural relationships and form bonds among memories and pieces of information; that’s how people learn, in fact– information only does so much without the all-important links and relationships between and among it.

In general, I found Writing as Communication more personally helpful than Writing Competently, as I have rarely had issues with grammar and style in writing. In fact, one of my teachers in eleventh grade told me that my writing style was “archaic” and overly formal rather than overly informal, and asked me to remedy that! (I’m still not entirely what he meant by that.) Still, it makes some good points about grammar– I was struck by the mention that grammar is a largely unconscious process, which is certainly true for me. Bad style certainly does destroy trust in an author. Witness how a badly misspelled email causes you to suspect a spam, or poor grammar in a novel leads you to discard it in favor of another.