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Principles of History Writing

There are three principles which characterise my history writing.�

(1) History, not Historiography
I don't write about what others have to say. I won't waste space on "X says this but Y says that". Sometimes this is legitimate, as when the primary sources disagree on an exact date. But usually, it just degenerates into a micro literature search. It reads wishy washy to the reader. It also leads to trying to puzzle things out when the possibility exists of simply looking it up. Instead of debating what X meant, why not just ring him up? Or send an e-mail? I have found that academics do answer their e-mails. This can work even with dead people. Well they don't answer their e-mail very often I admit but John spent a whole paragraph basically devoted to the fact that Australian historians record that General MacArthur consulted with General Blamey before making a decision [to establish COSC in 1942], while American historians omit this fact. Did it happen or not? In the primary document -- MacArthur's order -- he says that he had. Why look further?

(2) Contradiction, not Confrontation
When I don't agree with someone, I simply say something different. This happens a lot, because the Second World War is rather complicated. (If you're writing a Masters or Honours thesis, do yourself a favour and stick with the Great War! Trust me, it's easier, and more people will want to read it). Usually, such points are trivial and nobody will ever notice. However sometimes they are large, even important. It isn't productive to try the historian, which just leads to a more virulent form of the above. In many cases, what people have written has been correct so far as combat operations go but is less true or untrue of administrative issues. So I just stick to the facts. Poststructuralist that I am, I'm not pretending that this does not put a certain spin on things. Which brings us to...

(3) History, not Mythology
Part of the problem is certain preconceptions that many people have. Everything involves a certain amount of interpretation. Nonetheless I think that many people have gone overboard in this regard. America-bashing seems to be a common pastime for some Australian writers. Often it is nothing more that misunderstanding. The story of the Final Campaigns is shot through with curious assertions. I'm not trying to present some Australian view of things. I freely admit that writing about Australian logistics means a certain focus and taken in isolation, it will not cover the entire conflict. The focus does allow me to go into things in a depth that a historian of a larger army would not be so easily able to attempt. But I really don't want to hear from some Pommie historian who feels that the thesis is fundamentally unsound because I have not written about the British Army.


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
1st Oct, 2003 15:36 (UTC)
Hi Hawkeye, welcome aboard!
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