". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Friday, April 8, 2011

Overlong Works of History

This historian is a practicing attorney as well, thus he knows the relative value of words and their relationship to time/space!

But there are multiple digressions in the book that are not necessary and details that are simply numbing, not informative. A good editor could chop 100 pages out of the book (it weighs in at 800+) and no one would notice. Chernow, though, is an accomplished story-teller, and he has kept me gnawing away at his text, periodically calculating how many pages are left.

The Gordon-Reed book is more problematic. She chose to write about a slave family; the written historical record for slave families is always sparse, even for a relatively privileged slave family like the Hemingses. I am still trying to get through the book because I am learning interesting things from it every now and then, and I value that. But I would guess this one is twice as long as it needs to be.

There have been passages when I was inches from starting to pound the CD player in my car. When she notes that no records survive from John Wales, Thomas Jefferson's father-in-law, she explains in extraordinary detail all the ways in which his papers might have been destroyed. I actually don't care. Just tell me they're gone.
el V and I have had, and shall continue to have some serious discussions about the length of our books.

No comments: