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The historian as detective essay on evidence

It is also about other things: First and foremost, though, comes evidence: It is about surviving evidence.

  1. The book is an anthology of mainly historiographical and scholarly essays. Collingwood -- Tracer of missing persons.
  2. That it happened when, or how, or where the press, or a text, or a friend, or a parent, or an encyclopedia said that it did?
  3. Did immigrants rein force older patterns of life or create new ones? Such sources include, among other things, diaries, letters, newspapers, magazine articles, tape recordings, pictures, and maps.

Evidence that does not survive is no use, however plentiful it may once have been. It is also about intrinsically fallible evidence.

In this it resembles medicine and the detection of crime. And it is about fallible evidence as interpreted by fallible people; hence no question of finality can ever arise. All that can be studied are particular pieces of evidence, created in the first place usually for entirely non-historical reasons, which happen to survive into the present.

Their survival, again, usually reflects accident, whether accident at the time of creation, or accident in the process of preservation and survival or both. Nobody, or hardly anyone, created evidence for the convenience of future historians.

Had they done so, it would he highly suspect. What ulterior purpose led them to try to influence the future? My vocation as a professional historian often leads me to deal with questions of evidence.

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The historian must collect, interpret, and then explain his evidence by methods which are not greatly different from those techniques employed by the historian as detective essay on evidence detective, or at least the detective of fiction. It is not surprising, then, that historians often seem to relax with a so-called detective story, or that certain English dons and American professors are known not only to be addicts of the genre but sometimes even contribute to the literature.

What I have tried to explore in this anthology is the relationship between the colorful world of fictional intrigue, then, and the good gray world of professional scholarship, and to show how much of the excitement, the joy, and even the color properly belongs to the latter.

My same student also told me that he could never be a historian, for the life was far too lonely. One does not wish to romanticize the historian by belaboring his aloneness, but in the final analysis he is probably the least able of all scholars to work for a team, the least willing to coIlaborate, to co-author, to engage in public testimony and debate. One wonders whether the discipline makes the historian remote or whether it merely attracts those who already are so inclined.

Still, whatever compulsions are at work, the historian remains a private person, unwilling to reveal much of himself in his written word. His individuality is to be discovered, rather, in the range of topics on which he chooses to write, in the way in which he gathers evidence, in his conception of peripheral as opposed to central questions, in the very style of his expression. Nevertheless, historians are teachers as well as researchers and writers. In seeking out answers to questions which historians or other scholars frame, in pursuing the data which will provide partial answers to those questions, in ordering the data in a sequence that is both meaningful and true, and in evaluating the validity, importance, and causal relationships of the data, the writer employs certain commonly accepted canons of his profession.

When one speaks of evidence to an undergraduate, or to a lay reader of history, one generally means: How do we know that something is true? That it happened when, or how, or where the press, or a text, or a friend, or a parent, or an encyclopedia said that it did? Both levels of assessment involve the problem of evidence.

Evidence means different things to different people, of course. The historian tends to think mainly in terms of documents. A lawyer will mean something rather different by the word, as will a sociologist, or a physicist, or a geologist, or a police officer at the moment of making an arrest.

Very possibly the historian thinks of evidence more intuitively than most other people do, and for this reason he has worried the word about until it may have taken on more functions than its fragile origins will bear. Increasingly, social scientists think of evidence, or of data, as quantitative; that is, as something that can be counted. Because historians deal with the inexact, they have developed certain common-sense rules for evaluating evidence in terms of its reliability, its relevance, its significance, and its singularity.

Inference is notoriously unreliable, as are eyewitnesses, memories of old men, judgments of mothers about first children, letters written for publication, and garbage collectors. Our alarm clocks, the toothpaste tube without a cap, warm milk at the breakfast table, and the bus that is ten minutes late provide us with evidence from which we infer certain unseen actions.

The historian must reconstruct events often hundreds of years in the past, on the basis of equally homely although presumably more significant data, when the full evidence will never be recoverable and, for that portion of it recovered, when it may have meanings other than we would attach to similar evidence today.

Thus the historian has evolved his standards of inquiry, of thoroughness, and of judgment to provide him with a modus operandi. Historians pose to themselves difficult, even impossibly difficult, questions. Many miles of intellectual shoe leather will be used, for many metaphorical laundry lists, uninformative diaries, blank checkbooks, old telephone directories, and other trivia will stand between the researcher and his answer.

Yet the historian as detective essay on evidence routine must be pursued or the clue may be missed; the apparently false trail must be followed in order to be certain that it is false; the mute witnesses must be asked the reasons for their silence, for the piece of evidence that is missing from where one might reasonably expect to find it is, after all, a form of evidence in itself.

Precisely because the historian must turn to all possible witnesses, he is the most bookish of men. For him, no printed statement is without its interest. Of course one applies these notions of relevancy outside book-lined rooms, too, and the historian needs to be the most practical of men as well.

Clearly, then, the historian needs to assess evidence against a reasonably well-informed background. Is one writing of the The historian as detective essay on evidence Strike of 1894? One must, obviously, know quite a bit about general labor conditions, about business management, about employment opportunities and the nature of the economy, about Chicago and its environs, and about the railroad industry. But since many of the strikers were Welshmen, one needs also to know something of contrasting work conditions in that part of Wales from which the workmen came.

Since the strike was compounded by inept police and militia work, one needs to know about the nature of such work in Illinois and, comparatively, elsewhere. One needs to investigate the judicial system, the role of President Grover Cleveland, the powers open to Governor John P.

Altgeld, the ideas of Eugene V. Since the strike disrupted mail service throughout the nation, forcing letters north onto Canadian tracks, one needs to investigate at least briefly the Canadian rail network, the relationship with railwaymen elsewhere, and the applicability of the secondary boycott.

One needs to know much of the general climate of opinion at the time to assess the meaning of the strike. One needs to look at company, city, union, judicial, militia, post-office, Presidential, legal, and gubernatorial records; at the private papers of Cleveland, Altgeld, Pullman, Debs; at the papers of the judges, magistrates, and strikers, if they can be found and, when found, if one can gain access to them.

Such sources include, among other things, diaries, letters, newspapers, magazine articles, tape recordings, pictures, and maps. Such material may have appeared in print before, edited or unedited, and still be a source. The term is meant to be restrictive rather than inclusive, in that it attempts to indicate that works of secondary scholarship, or synthesis, are not sources, since the data have been distilled by another person. Did immigrants rein force older patterns of life or create new ones?

European historians, on the other hand, are likely to begin with the available source materials first, and then look to see what legitimate questions they might ask of those sources.

  1. Collingwood -- Tracer of missing persons.
  2. Elton was surely not the only professor in History in Cambridge who did have a certain style of addressing his students.
  3. Essays by noted historians of the past and present, on the problems of investigation, offer a series of intriguing case studies in the relationship between historical research and detective fiction.
  4. Is one writing of the Pullman Strike of 1894? Evidence that does not survive is no use, however plentiful it may once have been.

Here are the private papers of Joseph Chamberlain, or of Gladstone, or of Disraeli. What do they tell me of British polities? Of the Jameson Raid? Of the development of British tariff policy? Nor would I mean for my parallels between historical research and detective fiction to be taken too literally. There obviously is a gap between them, just as there is a gap between politics and scholarship.

Graff, The Modern Researcher 1957, 6th revised edition 2003. Kitson Clark, Guide for research students working on historical subjects 1958, 2nd edition 1968. Shafer, A Guide to Historical Method 1969, 3 rd edition 1980. The first edition was titled: A Workbook of Skill Development 1979. John Fines, Reading Historical Documents. A manual for students 1988. John Tosh, The Pursuit of History 1984, 6th revised edition 2015. A more elaborate anthology of quotations from his book is to be found in a different section of Hereditas Historiae: The abridged quotation by Robert W.

Winks is taken from the Introduction of: The Historian as detective.

  • European historians, on the other hand, are likely to begin with the available source materials first, and then look to see what legitimate questions they might ask of those sources;
  • It is about surviving evidence.

Essays on evidence 1969. The book is an anthology of mainly historiographical and scholarly essays. All edited essays are supplied - by Robert W. Winks 1930 - 2003 was professor in History at Yale University while he edited this anthology. His scholarly work explored the history of the British Empire, comparative American history, conservation history and the theory and development of espionage.

He chaired the History Department at Yale from 1996 to 1999. In addition to his work as a historian, Professor Winks wrote extensively on detective fiction and was twice nominated for the Edgar Award, which he won in 1999 for his work Mystery and Suspense Writers. The revisions are reflecting the changes in the field of the study of history, but also the manner in which students could be treated.

In his subtlety of words Robert Winks quite possibly tried to deliver more than one message. Shortly after publishing this particular book, Winks was on leave 1969-1971 to serve as a diplomat in the American Embassy in London. So perhaps a lot of clues are the historian as detective essay on evidence found in this book about the man himself and his personal choices. Apart from his Guide for research students working on historical subjects, George Kitson Clark also considered at large the necessary critical approach of the historian: The Critical Historian 1967.

Elton was surely not the only professor in History in Cambridge who did have a certain style of addressing his students.

To make an easy confession: On the junior level she read the books written by Enid Blyton. From about the age of 12 she started to read Agatha Christie and sometimes still does.