Mr. Bowden has set forth his quite well stated description and knock on recently observed and concluded academic tendencies with this passage from his published HWar response. Have reached some of Bowden's same conclusions, over recent years and consider it a serious matter. Cannot trust sources and substances offered by some, due to such biases mentioned by Bowden's discussion text. It does not improve levels to historical truth nor the levels of society.
Re: Ralph Hitchens first post [Historians and self criticisms] :
'And because, when it comes to history, we weren't there, you may be justified indulging in some informed speculation.'
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I take exception, as lawyers say, to this observation.
I am understanding this exception as, 'Unless you were there and part to History, yourself'.
As I am sure Col. Hitchens knows, the British Official Secrets Act is a 30 year ban on release of classified materials. That means a delay for 3 to 5 decades likely. Probably even longer delays exist as well.
"I was disappointed that there are still archival materials awaiting declassification which may have further aided my writing . . ." "True that," in today's vernacular. James Bowden is absolutely right that the classified archives kept by many federal agencies could greatly enhance the history we would like to write.
These days it is easy to do the right thing: have web pages on which you acknowledge errors in your books. That is what I do, and I consider myself fortunate that for my recent books the errors I reveal are very minor. I am a bit nervous that when Lien-Hang Nguyen's long-delayed book on the Tet Offensive finally comes out, it may reveal that I got something seriously wrong in my own book on Tet.
Thanks for posting this, David. I found the discussion worthwhile and honest. But I feel compelled ask one question: did Thucydides ever do this sort of self-examination? Did Livy? Did Herodotus?
Of course not. Or not that we could ever know. So, I suspect that with all our doubts, most practicing historians today are doing better than those guys -- even if we have to admit, they probably did the best that they could.
There's an interesting discussion going on at H-CivWar around getting history "right." Worth a look:
"Should We Admit We're Getting History Wrong?"
H-CivWar readers, as you can probably understand, the pandemic caused an unfortunate pause to our public history site and museum review series, as few of us did much tourism during the worst of the crisis. I'm glad to finally get it going again with this new site review of an antebellum home in the greater Atlanta area that is famous for its connection to Theodore Roosevelt.
Hello H-CivWar readers!