> I had earlier related that << There are clues in the past as to how people
> thought and what they believed. It's just a matter of analysis and
> Peter responded with: <<Analysis and interpretation? Rather necromancy and
> telepathy, I am afraid. >>
> I have to admit I smiled when I read his response. So predictable that it
> doesn't even phase me anymore. That has always been the response to new
> ideas and theories that don't conform to the norm. Peter, everyone has a
> right to their opinions and many will never have the openness to expand them.
> I'm not involved in this type of research to create a new "religion." I am
> here on a quest for knowledge and as much as possible for "truth." Just as
> Darwin, I have the same opportunity to put my education and life experiences
> to work on analyzing and interpreting data related to a particular pattern.
> Who knows? Perhaps an epiphany will occur. Perhaps not. Perhaps all I will
> contribute to this area of knowledge is more data for the next person.
> I do know without a doubt that anything I present will illicit controversy.
> Some people will support my findings while others will vehemently oppose
> them. It would be rather arrogant and egotistical for me to expect everyone
> to agree with my particular interpretation of an area that is considered
> subjective. However, I have no intentions of allowing that to silence my
> scientific research into the past. I see the clues and patterns and I will
> spend the rest of my life attempting to document, analysis and interpret them
> just as others will continue to do the same with the patterns they encounter.
> What a wonderful way to spend this lifetime.
> Robin Reed
Thank you very much for this message. I should begin with stating my
regret that my small remark seemed haughty to some members of this
list. This was in no way intended and I wish to apologise for
suggesting this impression.
Rather, I tried to summarise in those few words the crucial problem of
any historian: How can we obtain knowledge about the past? Our
colleagues who deal with the present (i. e., social sciences) have the
problem that people don't tell what they think. When they fill in
questionnaires, they simply don't tick the appropriate boxes for a
variety of reasons. That's the telepathy thing. Well, things get of
course much more difficult if our test persons are dead for quite a
"analyzing and interpreting data related to a particular pattern" -
ok, but what is your data? Our knowledge of past cultures relies to
99% percent on two types of sources - written records and
archaeological findings. Other types of sources - "anthropolical
constants", name history ... - are rarely of help.
I do know quite well that interpreting written sources is a *very*
tough business. The languages are awfully difficult, a translation of
Greek or Latin in any modern language is not of much help, and reading
them yourself costs years of academic training. Even if *that* problem is
mastered, you still face the same difficulties that you have with any
text: What is the bias of the author? Where was he sloppy? Are there
problems of transmission (i. e., did scribes unintentionally of even
intentionally alter the text)? etc. p. p. ...
There are - alas! - few facts that are beyond question. Everyone has
the right of his own interpretation, and I already posted to this list
my conviction that discussion lives on disagreement.
But: 1. You need certain "data" (your word) to start from. If you had
any means of knowing what people thought whose opinion did not come
down to us, that would really sound like magic (or Max, if you prefer,
witchcraft ;) ) to me. You can have a fair guess on certain quite
obvious questions - slaves did **very** probably not enjoy forced
labour -, but hardly anything else. 2. I think it was you (if not,
accept my pardon) who entered the "Mein Kampf" example in the
discussion in order to prove that written records are unreliable and
therefore to discard. First, oral records are no better (ask some old
Nazi how he experienced the Third Reich, for example). Second, there
can be no question that you can learn a great deal about what those heinous minds
thought when they started the bloodiest of wars and the worst genocide
ever. "Mein Kampf" is obviously *no* source for the objective
condition of Europe in the first half of this century, but it is one
of the most important sources of Nazi thought. Yet this statement can
only be made if you carefully interpret the sources, i. e. the
That's everything I wanted to argue.
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