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


al_brown03
 

In scholarly work, interpretation is legitimate when done carefully.
It's OK to say "I believe this for reasons X and Y and Z" when the
reasons are well-supported; in general, leaps of logic should be
minimized, and the trail back to original sources should be kept as
short as possible. The foregoing is vague, I know, but every case is
different. If one couldn't interpret without talking to someone who'd
been there, anything beyond living memory would be unknowable. Some
knowledge is gone, but much isn't. The recent discussion about which
railroads got SS vs DS boxcars, and why, is an example (with freight
car content, no less). I think we wound up showing that we don't
really know; but the answers probably existed, at the time, in the
internal memos of railroad car departments. The trick is to find
them; many have been destroyed, but perhaps not all.

Al Brown, Melbourne, Fla.



--- In STMFC@yahoogroups.com, "Jack Burgess" <jack@...> wrote:

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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