HIS 301 Chapter Notes - Chapter 1.1: Anachronism, The Documentary
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~ Chapter One: The Documentary Ideal ~
Part 1: V.H. Galbraith
o The study of history is a personal activity.
o It is, or ought to be, the least authoritarian of the sciences.
o Its essential value lies in the shock and excitement aroused.
▪ It is for this reason that actual original documents exercise such fascination upon
those who have caught something of its secret.
o The lectures and the textbooks are a necessary preliminary, a grammar of the subject.
o But the purpose of all this grammar is to lead the student to the sources, from the study of
which whatever power our writing and talking has is derived.
o The most brilliant reconstructions of the past can never lessen the immediate value of the sources of
o Higher degrees are bound up with the rapid development of historical teaching into a considerable
o Students work in an environment of haste at the very time in their career when leisure and
time to think are most essential.
o They pass from the study of wide periods to a specialization that is too narrow, too intense,
and too hurried.
o Our young scholars are hard put to it to maintain the necessary quantity of original research, while
legitimate ambition or economic pressure urges them to hasty publication.
o Here are three suggestions:
▪ Something more should be done to efface the hard line generally drawn between
undergraduate work and research.
• Some insight into the raw material of history and the process by which the
slick narrative of the textbooks is evolved should be given to all honors
students before they get their degrees.
• Experience has proved that this can be done, possibly, by a thesis or
exercise which should not expect publication.
▪ The transcribing and editing of texts and documents should be encouraged as
subjects for these degrees.
• At present the subjects are commonly too ambitious.
• Many great historians served their apprenticeship by copying and editing
▪ Post-graduate scholarships for research should be freely tenable without any
obligation or pressure upon the student to enter for higher degrees.
• It would discourage the too hasty publication of research in book form in
favor of articles or notes in the reviews.
• The thesis is commonly far too long and elaborate.
o The true purpose of writing books about the past is not to supersede the original authorities but to
make their study more significant for our successors.
o History should be studied as soon and a far as possible through primary sources.
o The historical material available for research is strictly limited in amount and there is a limit to the
methods of inquiry which can be employed.
o On those aspects of history which are most central and worthy of study, original work must
be the exception rather than the rule.
▪ The greater part of such work may not be “original” but that doesn’t mean it’s
o The activity of research itself, invaluable to those who pursue it and to their generation, is perennial,
unchanging, and significant.
o The thoughts of men are never at a stand, they change from generation to generation.
o To sync oneself in the past is a hard discipline, but a necessary one if written history is not to
be a vast anachronism.
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