March 21, 2004

History!

Collected Miscellany has a couple of posts on the writing of history. The first points out that history is about determining and recording historical truth--not about exporting present day politics into the past. This should go without saying. The second champions narrative history, to which I say "Hurrah!".

There's a place for non-narrative history--it can usefully condense, summarize, and analyze the primary sources in a particularly area, and make them accessible to a wider group of historians. But for communicating our past history to those who need to know it and make use of it--the rest of us, that is--nothing succeeds like narrative history.

Which reminds me, I just got a copy of William Manchester's A World Lit Only By Fire. Why am I blogging when I could be reading?

Posted by Will Duquette at March 21, 2004 05:47 PM

Deb said:

I will be interested in what you think of that Manchester book. It's history-lite compared to his other work. On the other hand, he wrote it to have something to do because he was too ill to work on WC Vol III. Amazing thought. Have you read the Winston Churchill books?

Will Duquette said:

History-lite is right! I started it last night and was disappointed multiple times in just the first chapter. He says he only used secondary sources; I don't know what they were, but he seems to be recycling all of the common misconceptions about the Middle Ages.

On top of that, you can't understand Medieval Europe without understanding Christianity--and not only doesn't he understand Christianity at all, I'd wager he hasn't thought about it very much either. (I could go into detail, but that's another post.)

I've not read his Churchill biography, but my buddy has just finished American Caesar and says it's outstanding.

Deb said:

Yes,it is but he really pulled the stops out with Winston. And the frustrating thing is that he got ill before he could finish with Vol III which means he left us hanging just as WC becomes PM at the beginning of the war.

Will Duquette said:

They are all on my list to read at some point.

Here's an example of the kinds of absurd statements in A World Lit Only By Fire: "The date of [Christ's] resurrection was also unrecorded." I beg your pardon? By the standards of the day, it was quite well recorded. The Gospels are clear that Christ was crucified just before Passover began, and rose three days later; and I've just been told (I can't verify it myself) that the Talmud says the same thing.

Gah.

Will Duquette said:

Ahem. The Talmud says, so I've been informed, that Jesus was put to death on the Eve of Passover. One would hardly expect the Talmud to say that Jesus rose three days later.