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Re: Jeff's New Article

>    I wish all of you who have any questions about the Templars would read
>this book.  Some of you think you can get all your information off the
>internet.  That is false.  You know there are no history police that will
>force only truthful entries.  You have to read books to get an indepth
>understanding of a subject.   Look at the references.  Books are the closest
>we can get to the real facts.  People can make up references on the internet
>but it would be highly unusual for that to happen in a book that would be
>viewed, for sure, by many knowlegeble people on that subject.   There is
>more acountability involved with book writing.  You have to read books,
>people, but even then make sure there is documentation for the "facts".

Books are almost always secondary or tertiary sources, unless they are
written by people who were directly involved in the events they chronicle,
which is unlikely for modern books about events hundreds of years ago.
Even autobiographies of famous people frequently leave out important
parts that the author found embarrassing.

Primary sources might include, for example, letters, deeds, wills, papal
Bulls, court records, or other contemporary documents written by or about
persons or groups.

The google archive of USENET postings thus qualifies as primary source
material for Internet history, as do the Internet RFCs available from IETF.
First person accounts from people directly involved in creation of Internet
or ARPANET protocols also count.  Even there, I can tell you as a historian
of the Internet and networks that first person accounts of even simple
facts do not always agree in detail, and first person accounts of interactions
and motives very often do *not* agree.

If history of something like the Internet is so hard, even though most
of the people involved in its creation are still alive and corresponding
with the historians, how much harder must be history of events hundreds
of years in the past with all the participants dead, most of the records lost,
and succeeding commentators having very large motives for spinning the
story in particular ways?

A well-researched and written book may cite primary and secondary and
tertiary sources and weave them into a plausible and defensible story.
A well-researched and written book may use all the same sources and
weave a highly attractive but completely indefensible story.  And we
all know of certain books, often involving Templars or Sinclairs,
that are somewhere in between, mixing speculation, myth, and fact.
Even the most respected historians with the most impeccable credentials
and records can make mistakes.  Even the most accepted work on a
person or period may 20 years later be overturned by a new interpretation
using the same source material.

As for what is as close as you can get to the real facts, I find
tombstones to be pretty close.  When I'm in Caithness I like to go
to Old St. Peters Kirk in Thurso and look at my great-great-grandparents
tombstone.  It's not holding up very well, by the way, apparently due
atmospheric contamination.

But even tombstones can be inaccurate.  I know of a tombstone in Georgia
that has the death date two years late.  Why?  Because the child buried
there died as her settler family arrived at that site, and they couldn't
afford to buy a tombstone until two years later.  They ordered one,
and when it arrived it had the date of the current year on it.
They couldn't afford another one, so they used it.
How do I know this?  Whenever possible, use multiple sources.

Facts are not so simple things that you can say you know them
simply because you read them in a book.

And history is not so simple a thing that facts alone are sufficient.
Every historian must weave a story partly based on speculation.
The facts in history should be as accurate as possible.  But history
is also judged on the consistency and plausibility of the story.

>As ever,

John S. Quarterman <jsq@quarterman.org>

PS: For students wanting to write history, this may be of interest:
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