Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Evidence is not easy

Historians have issues with evidence evaluation, too. Here's the nautical metaphor that China scholar Jonathan D. Spence used to introduce his collection of Western "sightings" of China over the past 800 years:

We must imagine our pilots and navigators . . . holding rather simple instruments in their hands as they make their sightings. Furthermore, the hands that hold the instruments are often chapped with cold or sleek with sweat. Our guides are standing on sloping decks that shift angle without warning, and are often blinded by a burst of spray or dazzled by an unexpected dart from the previously beclouded sun. (xviii)
His subsequent discussion of the endlessly receding mystery of Marco Polo's account of China forced me to reconsider the idea that historians deal only in generalities and so don't have to worry about particular facts the way genealogists do.

Jonathan D, Spence, The Chan's Great Continent: China in Western Minds (New York: W. W. Knopf, 1999).

Harold Henderson, "Evidence is not easy," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 25 September 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Katharine Ott said...

I am just now (Feb 15) getting to your Sep blogs, but I like the thoughts in this one a lot. Thanks!