Re: Is what we're doing REAL history??


Jack Burgess
 

Dennis wrote:
I'll put my $.02 in. It's "real history" if the author can cite
primary sources, i.e. railroad or builder's records or articles in
contemporary trade press. If it's just a retelling of what the author
heard somewhere or surmises from known facts, it's popular history,
and must be viewed with an eye toward the fact that while the author
believes something is true, it may not be.

That's why I always try to cite sources in these web discussions. In a
recent post I cited an article by Lane in a 1973 issue of the R&LHS
publication "Railroad History". If one wants to explore the material
further, he can obtain the original article and find the source of
Lane's material, which are memoranda from the USRA files now in the
National Archives. Real history will have an unbroken thread of
provenance all the way back to the source.
I generally agree with Dennis but not everything can be traced back primary
sources. But history can be very unenlightening is all that is written is
"what they did" and nothing about "why they did it". The "why" can be
understood and reported if those responsible for the "what" are still alive,
the reporter completely understands all of the factors that influenced the
"why", and accurately reports it. But if that information isn't available
from first-hand accounts, an author must try to understand things based on
combining known facts and information and then arriving at conclusions based
on that research. Is such reporting less than accurate? It could be if the
reporter is biased or doesn't carefully weigh all of the known information
before arriving at their conclusions. OTOH, the conclusions from such
research might be completely accurate. In my own research, I always use
terms such as "suggests" or "might be concluded" to show that a statement is
an assumption based on facts. But because I can't provide citations for the
statements, does that make it "popular history"?

Jack Burgess
www.yosemitevalleyrr.com

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