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  • How do you know when you are right?

    When making a historical analysis how do we know when we got it right? What do we measure an argument against to prove it?

  • #2
    I'm generally extremely cautious in this area. Most battles are simply too large for one mind to encompass leaving even sober eye-witness testimony to be evaluated skeptically. The importance of war as a part of one's national narrative naturally leads to additional inconsistencies of memory and interpretation. Good research looks at the available evidence and is not afraid to say 'we don't know' when such evidence is inconclusive.
    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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    • #3
      We can't. Accepted history is merely the opinion of the majority. That is what keeps the revisionists occupied and the rest of us interested in the study of it. History is interesting to many of us because we will never truly know what happened. We can form our own historical opinions and no matter what anyone does it is unlikely that they will ever change it.
      If there are no dogs in Heaven, then I want to go where they went when they died-Will Rogers

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      • #4
        I go with the weight and quality of the evidence. Single-sourced material is not taken as gospel, but if you have many independent corroborative sources then you can have high confidence. CTers, on the other hand, tend to accept any source that supports their theory uncritically.
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        • #5
          Originally posted by sherlock View Post
          We can't. Accepted history is merely the opinion of the majority. That is what keeps the revisionists occupied and the rest of us interested in the study of it. History is interesting to many of us because we will never truly know what happened. We can form our own historical opinions and no matter what anyone does it is unlikely that they will ever change it.
          That's the point. Historical analysis shouldn't be opinion. It should be fact. And as such it needs some kind of test for validity.

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          • #6
            Originally posted by Duncan View Post
            That's the point. Historical analysis shouldn't be opinion. It should be fact. And as such it needs some kind of test for validity.
            History changes as new material surfaces, consider how our our perception of The Eastern Front changed once the Soviet archives were opened, and thus precludes becoming fact. Some things, such as dates and personalities, are fact, but other not so much.

            As for a validity test; if both sides of the conflict agree on the history, then it would have to be true.
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            • #7
              There must be something that can be a test for validity though. I recall reading about Phillip II and the book spoke of archeological evidence agreeing with first hand accounts.

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              • #8
                How do you know when you are right?

                Comparative analysis using like or similar situational outcomes; if any, using your best probability givens, ditto, and tempered with "common sense", while allowing that one (self) could jolly well be wrong as wearing two left shoes and taking it all with a modicum of grace and not going apeshit behind it all.
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                • #9
                  Perhaps if you'd specify a bit things would be clearer ?

                  In general you measure an argument against either an historical source or another, previously made argument.

                  Peer reviews can be useful, if any number of colleagues, who's opinion you respect, consider your argument complete rubbish, it may cause you to reconsider.

                  Also any reading of history involving anything but the most basic facts, will be an interpretation, never a final version since new sources will inevitably appear.

                  Thus you'll find historians being careful mostly, "Most agree that..." or "Standard history assumes..."
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                  • #10
                    Say only what you know.

                    One way in which people get into trouble is reading too much into the available data.
                    You see this "pop archeology" where a dressed stone under water is freely interpreted as evidence of Atlantis or a bit of wood on a Turkish mountain side part of Noah's Ark.

                    The least reliable narratives IMO are those that claim to know the mind of some historical figure. Some of the most pointless arguments in our Civil War and WWI forums turn on the state of mind of someone long dead.
                    Any metaphor will tear if stretched over too much reality.

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                    • #11
                      Originally posted by GCoyote View Post
                      One way in which people get into trouble is reading too much into the available data.
                      You see this "pop archeology" where a dressed stone under water is freely interpreted as evidence of Atlantis or a bit of wood on a Turkish mountain side part of Noah's Ark.

                      The least reliable narratives IMO are those that claim to know the mind of some historical figure. Some of the most pointless arguments in our Civil War and WWI forums turn on the state of mind of someone long dead.
                      I'm getting annoyed with the way conspiracy theories and sensationalism is creeping into recent documentaries.

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                      • #12
                        Originally posted by Duncan View Post
                        I'm getting annoyed with the way conspiracy theories and sensationalism is creeping into recent documentaries.
                        Hi

                        Well that's almost par for the course, as the producers are worried about attention spans. So they throw in potential CT's WI's and 'sexed up' accounts/reconstructions to hopefully keep us entertained-which as we well know is alot different than informed.

                        Regards
                        "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                        "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Duncan View Post
                          When making a historical analysis how do we know when we got it right? What do we measure an argument against to prove it?
                          Hi Duncan

                          Within the academic arena its the Peer Review system as mentioned by an earlier poster, though this itself is under some scrutiny. The rigor of the Peer Review which was once the bedrock of its worth, has been slowly eroded.

                          http://societyofbiologyblog.org/publ...t-for-purpose/

                          The line between Opinion and Interpretation is very whimsical, often the latter morphs into the former without any conscious actions.

                          On a personnel level I go upon the depth of research done by the person. I see what primary source documents he has interrogated, there secondary sources (both published & unpublished) and lastly the gravitas of the person themselves. Obviously quite hard if its a first book, but there are usually other indicators as to whether you should take the persons POV as correct.

                          Regards
                          "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                          "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

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                          • #14
                            I think this is a very good question.

                            In my case I've realized that history is a question of what narrative *I* am satisfied with, and to know that it's a question of being satisfied, not of "truth." We cannot know the truth: we weren't there. Even if we had been, we might well not know: we don't know what is really going on with events in the news today, like Ukraine or Gaza or Ebola.

                            I have concluded personally that the task requires reading it ALL. I mean, shelves worth, on a given subject. I have found out two things: that the higher flying historians who want to entertain will say ANYTHING, if it makes a good story and fits their hobby horse. No more Martin Gilbert for me. No more Max Hastings. But that the other 16 books on a given topic -- say, the Gavrilo Princip episode -- will say the same thing on certain parts of it and vary widely on others. Where exactly was Gavrilo, and was he sitting having coffee? Was he standing by the corner? Did he have a friend with him, or not? Everyone says something different. But some things enough writers agree on that I can be satisfied with the narrative and accept it. Not as truth: just....accept it. Both Gavrilo and Cabrinovic ate those cyanide tablets and got throwing-up sick, but the capsules were too old to work. Every historian says that and it was testified by both men in court.

                            What I really like is when somebody PROVES something. The deeply satisfying moment when they dug up Richard III. The fashion for a hundred years has been to say he wasn't REALLY hunchbacked, that was all just Tudor prejudice!! Then they dig him up and yep, the guy had pronounced scoliosis. Not so bad that he couldn't fight! And did: that he died sword in hand and his crown flew off his head into a highly symbolic, ominous thornbush is generally agreed. That they hauled him naked and face-up on a mule or donkey to be buried also is agreed and seems to fit the dug-up corpse. I was never satisfied with all that "Tudor prejudice" stuff: it just felt wrong. And it was wrong --- it was pure political agenda, if of a whacky type.

                            I like people to argue by taking account of facts. For example, there are people who just haul off and say Serbia had nothing to do with the Archduke's assassination! AAAAAaaaaaaagh. The situation was subtle, true, but to say Serbia had nothing to do with it ------ yow. That's just a sweeping statement that isn't historical, IMO.

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                            • #15
                              Originally posted by Phebe View Post
                              I think this is a very good question.

                              In my case I've realized that history is a question of what narrative *I* am satisfied with, and to know that it's a question of being satisfied, not of "truth."
                              Hi Phebe

                              Are you satisfied because it answers all your questions? or are you satisfied because it supports or reinforces you viewpoint?

                              Regards
                              "You have enemies? Good. That means you've stood up for something, sometime in your life." Churchill

                              "I'm no reactionary.Christ on the Mountain! I'm as idealistic as Hell" Eisenhower

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