Thursday, July 2, 1998

Historical writings

        Histories should be divided into two parts (not necessarily in the same work): narrative history and factual (factal?) or evidential history. The former is normal history: telling a tale, piecing together of facts within a framework of tapestry to weave a coherent and interesting story.
        The second or evidential history is a far more rigorous, scientific document. It delineates the facts gathered, the conclusions reached, the connections between, and—most importantly—the entire evidential chain back to its original sources, so that no conclusions are based on others’ data or conclusions without an understanding of how they reached their answers, so as to point up where errors may gave occurred, and to be able to understand not only the lineage and origins of the data (in order that the reader might draw her own conclusions) but also its degree of sureness and veracity at every point, thus giving first an indication of the likely accuracy of the current conclusions, and second a way of making apparent what of the conclusions must be called into question if any of the sources are proven wrong, without invalidating the entire work.

I also believe that history writers, after completing their research, should read a book of their favorite fiction, or perhaps Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance—which does an excellent job of expository philosophy while reading like a good novel—before writing their narrative history, so that they won’t write sentences like the above.

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