Category Archives: a hit of methodology

June 30, 2009, 12:17 pm

The First Rough Draft of History [Boxers, June 30, 1900]

seymour2.jpgJournalism is famously the “first rough draft of history” and today I want to look for a moment at what kind of draft it is. To do so, I’ve taken a relatively short article from the New York Times of June 30, 1900, and read it closely. How well does an article written in the heat of the moment stand up for the long term?

The short answer: not well. The long answer, however, is that it is interesting to analyze how the article was constructed, what agendas were served, and where inaccurate or shaded information served some purpose other than simply reporting. As a factual account of events prior to June 30, 1900, the article failed. As a source for a history of that period, the article seems to me eminently useful.

Before we explore those answers further, let me lay out a bit of the background to the article. Since early June, 1900, the crisis in China had grown enormously….

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June 29, 2009, 3:15 pm

Buffy writes a journal article.

You’ll sometimes hear historians bemoaning the state of professional scholarship, saying there’s nothing interesting in the new issues of our journals and everyone’s fixated on trivia to the exclusion of important questions. And I like a good jeremiad as well as anyone. But I thought I’d begin a series of posts on journal articles that are interesting and nontrivial. (We’ll see how long it lasts.)


Sundiata Keita Cha-Jua and Clarence Lang, “The ‘Long Movement’ as Vampire: Temporal and Spatial Fallacies in Recent Black Freedom Studies,” Journal of African American History 92, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 265-288.

Link here, for those who can access it.

June 28, 2009, 3:12 pm

“Polygraph-level scholarship may suffice for harmless speculation about the authorship of Midsummer’s Night Dream, but not for Dreams From My Father. Too much is at stake.”

(by request.)

As all actual, practicing literary critics know, few sentences in critical works scream tendentiousness louder than:

What should be transparent to any literary critic is that . . .

Literary matters are only “transparent” when they’re not properly literary. If something is transparent, you don’t need a literary critic to ponder the depths it doesn’t have—any old idiot will suffice. And that’s exactly why Jack Cashill, author of the above and an idiot of long-standing, is just the man to prove that Bill Ayers wrote Obama’s autobiography, Dreams From My Father. For Cashill and his mysterious contributors (“[t]he media punishment that Joe the Plumber received” requires they remain anonymous), the case against Obama is a compelling one:

What Mr. Midwest noticed recently is that both Ayers in [A Kind and Just Parent] and Obama in [Dreams From My Father] make reference to the…

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April 7, 2009, 8:45 am

Journals To Which I Won’t Be Submitting

Though I do wonder what experiences led them to charge for extra emails:

We discourage any lengthy-frequent-repetitive contacts with this journal. For the complexity of AEQ review process see Flowchart. The Journal’s ten year publishing experience suggests maximum 8 e-mail/postal contacts
between the author and AEQ as the norm

  • 1) submission
  • 2) submission clarification
  • 3) copyright
  • 4) extra contact

You must complete the above 3 in maximum 4 e-mail/postal contacts. Otherwise, your submission
will be rejected or rescheduled for consideration until the next available issue.

  • 5) reviews
  • 6) reviews clarification
  • 7) final copy
  • 8) extra contact

Exceeding eight contacts may disqualify your submission from further consideration or require $45 redactory fee. as it drives up journal’s…

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March 23, 2009, 3:24 pm

A method to our madness.

If you were teaching a methods/historiography course, what texts would you use? And yes, I know methods and historiography are two different things, thanks.

March 20, 2009, 12:01 am

The propagation of false news in wartime.

In 1921 Marc Bloch published a review essay in the Revue de synthèse historique on the propagation of false news in wartime. As far as I know it’s not been published in English, though I think bits of it turn up in the Historian’s Craft, it’s reprinted in Ecrits de guerre, and it’s available as a (very short) book in French. As Carole Fink points out, here Bloch is doing some important spade-work into the critical analysis of myths to reveal what they say about the culture that produces them. Bloch is not interested in propaganda or lies, which he regards as trivial and obvious, but rather in the error that is propagated as fact.

March 13, 2009, 9:31 am

Against self-polishing.

Historians consult sources that record past events, dismantle these sources into statements of fact, then reassemble these atoms into a synthesis of past events allegedly superior to the constituent sources. In the process we make many decisions: which sources to consult, which facts to distill from them, which facts to cull from the distillate and what emphasis to place on any of them. How do we make these decisions?

In October 1910, Carl L. Becker published “Detachment and the Writing of History” in the Atlantic Monthly, to reckon with this question.1