View single post by booklover
 Posted: Sat Dec 1st, 2007 04:48 pm
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booklover
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It seems that too many people get hung up on the term "bias" simply because it's seen as bad form to inject opinion into historical writing, but I would hold that not only is it necessary but a valuable service the author can offer. If I write that on April 14, 1865 Abraham Lincoln was shot and killed while watching a play in Ford's Theater, no one can accuse me of being biased because that's an acknowledged fact. However, if I add that Lincoln's own fatalistic view of life contributed to his murder because he wouldn't have a bodyguard, that delves into the realm of opinion, but I can back it up based on the research I've read and papers I've studied. So my "bias" is that Lincoln contributed to his own death, but it hopefully provokes discussion. But I also think that the crap put out by DiLorenzo, Tripp, etc., where one might say that they are obviously against Lincoln from the outset, or in the case of Tripp has an agenda to push, is just as important if only for the discussion they provoke. It does us good to have our opinions shaked and challenged every now and then if only to make us research and study even more. Shelby Foote's work is biased toward the Southern point of view, but it isn't any less valuable because of that. C. Vann Woodward was often viewed as a traitor to his section because he pointed out the heresy that Jim Crow wasn't an entrenched system so it couldn't be changed, but he himself was pleased to see this because of the discussion it prompted. Woodward even took to revising himself and encouraged those critics (see C. Vann Woodward, "Strange Career Critics: Long May They Persevere," Journal of American History 75 (December 1988), 862). I admit here that I have a bias in favor of Woodward simply because after receiving my degree in history, and pondering a turn as a graduate student, I wrote Woodward a letter and this world-class scholar actually took the time to respond (and typed the letter himself, as there are mistakes throughout).

So bias doesn't bother me, at least not in the way it seems to bother others. The only problem (and it's a biggie) is when someone reads only one author and then closes his or her mind to other interpretations. James McPherson is, in my opinion, one of the legends of the field, but until Battle Cry of Freedom is updated, he will likely lose his standing as the greatest living Civil War historian simply because the field is constantly changing and interpretations are being revised. Ahh, history, long may it persevere!

Does any of this make sense?

Best
Rob

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