". . . 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

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Chronology Is the Historian's Best Friend

This afternoon I was in the library, copyediting and proofing and just plain line editing a chapter among those we're sending on to Agent.* I hit this sentence that states a slave trader and merchant had also outfittted a privateer in 1752. I didn't write this sentence and I don't have the rest of ms. on me that provides the citation for the footnote. So I send el V an e-mail asking him, "Um, against whom did Galloway send that privateer in 1752? There weren't any wars at the moment that I can think of for which privateer action would have been acceptable."

El V e-mails back: "I wish I knew too." So then he goes digging into the citations. Turns out that was a typo. Not 1752 as he'd written, but 1757 -- big difference. Already the French and Indian Wars, as we called them over here, 1757, but not in 1752. In 1757 you could take a French vessel as a legal prize of war, but not in 1752.

But if I didn't know my dates I wouldn't have questioned el V about the date.

So don't believe anyone who says history shouldn't teach us dates because dates are boring so we shouldn't have to bother. Date are the platform via which all historic work begins. If your platform is erected on false chronology, everything else will be wrong too. (I'm not even going to get started on all the people who believe that history is only opinions, and there are no facts involved in historical studies.)

It's so great to have two of us doing this process.

* I was working in ms, actual printed out pages, not on screen, though I had the laptop plugged in, and the library's wi-fied, so I could e-mail el V -- unlike so many I was polite and courteous and thinking of others, so I E_MAILED, I did not phone and talk on the top of my voice.

Among the things at the top of the bewilderment list is this: I sit in a bookstore cafe -- a place of retail -- with a friend and we are talking. All around us come disaproving stares, and even demands that we be quiet because we are disturbing people studying, writing, whatever. However, in the effing LIBRARY, these same people eat, drink, talk on their cell phones and have a party with their peers, and think you're  crazy for requesting them to modulate their voices lower or to not play music. One more sign that this country is insane.

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