Originally Posted by Andy H
Are you satisfied because it answers all your questions? or are you satisfied because it supports or reinforces you viewpoint?
Hi, Andy -- Another good question(s).
I am not particularly prejudiced against information bias: there has to be SOME reason to choose a narrative among so many competing narratives that historical writers offer, and one's own biases may sometimes be as good as any. The War of 1812, for instance: I don't study it, so far, but I am not open to silly British ideas about how they really won, somehow, despite how unlikely that looks. Perhaps if I do study it systematically, I will conclude they won (....in a pig's eye....), but at this time, I am satisfied to rest on my biases.
Biases are usually not good enough if I'm seriously studying an era, however, and I like your mention of questions. Don't a lot of us go into historical study to answer a burning question? What HAPPENED that the whole French Revolution was so twisted out of true, twice? What caused World War I to blow up out of nowhere? It can be a quite limited question, even, but still burn. Why, oh why, did Henry VIII decide to arrest Cardinal Wolsey the very eve of his entry into his archbishopric in York in November 1530?? They'd gotten rid of him! He'd be stuck in York! What was the problem? I once read a 2 3/4-inch book trying to find that out, and I measured the width in frustration at the large center part detailing Wolsey's decades of dry legal decisions and maneuvers. At long last the book DID give some speculations on this matter (there is not much source material on it because it was hushed up after Wolsey died en route
by mule back to London, presumably of stroke -- he was very overweight and extremely upset and they were carefully watching him against attempted suicide) and I find I am satisfied with those speculations.
I was thinking about this issue yesterday -- I don't like revisionism whether it's to sell books by novelty or to promote the author's agenda. Neither are history. Here's a case: When Robespierre went to the guillotine, his jaw was badly broken by gunshot, to the point that it gaped open several inches to hang on his chest, and someone had bound it up for him with one of those long neckcloths they wore. Such cloths (neck or otherwise) were stripped off by the executioner so they didn't interfere with the blade, and the executioner did this. Robespierre let out a terrible, loud howl: everyone agrees on this.
But Jacob Isaacs, the author of the otherwise excellent "Revolutionary Ideas," which I much recommend as a good and thorough survey of the Revolution, is pleased to say that he "howled in fury."
Okay, nooooooobody else says that, and I've seen several accounts of this scene. It doesn't even make sense: Robespierre was terribly injured and could hardly move; he was essentially moribund, by eyewitness accounts. Everyone else says that he howled in pain, and who wouldn't? He may have howled in fear, too: they left him till late in the series.
Isaacs says he howled in fury, suggesting that Robespierre was expressing frustration at not being able to continue his murderous course of killing thousands and thousands of people. Isaacs despises Robespierre, a totalitarian tyrant, and he makes an excellent case that Robespierre was despicable, but to pretend to get inside his head in the last minute of his life and report a state of mind different from what anyone else proposes and not very plausible from the physical realities of the situation --- that's getting too symbolic and poetic. That's not history. That's propaganda.
So it's fine with me if historians differ from the mainstream: but they need to make a good case for taking a road less traveled by. If they don't, I don't believe them. I'll go with the mainstream (which may be totally wrong, I know!!) unless somebody gives me a good reason to change course.