The Duck of Minerva

It’s All My Fault

2 August 2011

One should not blog in anger. In an effort to make my points, I think I overstated my case and offended some people, which I did not intend to do. Wait. Isn’t that what blogging is all about? Maybe I did intend to do that.

Seriously, if I were to amend this, I would make a number of changes.

First, it is not that second-hand sources are bad and inherently inferior to primary sources. They are absolutely necessary. There is a bit of a division of labor between historians and us, as we are more often looking at the forest for the trees, or to mix ecological metaphors, trying not to get lost in the weeds. We can’t do as thorough a job as they do, especially if we take on broad subjects like Dan does. But to some degree, we need to chew our own food, especially when we are investigating micro-processes. That’s what this book was supposed to be doing, but didn’t. My point about hearsay is not about whether we do better interpretations of primary documents. It was more like a Xerox argument. The photocopy of a photocopy is worse than the original. As information becomes recycled, it loses its original meaning. And I use ‘primary documents’ liberally, not necessarily to convey the image of dusty archives. For instance, I expect Dan to have read the Edict of Nantes. And I have read the UN Charter.

Second, the book in question isn’t really the problem. I see this kind of sloppy qualitative work everywhere I look. I am very, very rarely impressed by the depth of empirical research in this business. It is always an afterthought to the theory. Books win prizes based on their first chapter, not 3-7. But that’s a problem, isn’t it?

Third, 2×2 tables, when wielded by sure hands, are fine. I have come to this conclusion after remembering that I have one in a recent piece I did…..

Fourth, you have nothing to fear from me, Stephanie. I take bribes. I am self-righteous but also corrupt. Please forward your bank info to this address in Nairobi……