Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Posting this for Dr. Schulz

We read a large amount of commentary on Witness and Bible Student history. Many of those who write about these groups lack understanding of evidentiary value.
            The best evidence is contemporary to the events. But not all contemporary documents have the same value. For instance, there are many contemporary comments on the election of J. F. Rutherford and the expulsion of dissenting directors. That many writers say the same thing does not mean that each is of the same quality. Some simply repeat what they heard or read. None of this is evidence at all. It is gossip. Gossip might be noted by a historian, but it is not evidence. An ethical historian will prune the evidence down to first hand observations. Of these, those that have a point of view become suspect. Why did they say what they said? is an important question. In a controversy, you will find differing points of view. A historian must balance what is said against motive.
            Contemporary newspapers are first hand material, but they’re subject to point of view and motive. Nineteenth century papers are notoriously full of lies and fakery. Never take a newspaper article at face value. Ask if it rationally represents events as other testimony represents it.
            Original letters and diaries are excellent evidence. But does the content defend someone? Why? Is the defense rational? Does it support other evidence?
            Best evidence, aside from being contemporary, has verifiable detail. Suspect documents that lack detail.
            Secondary evidence is only important because it gives an overview of current views of the subject. It is not an important contribution to the historic narrative. If one relies on it, he is probably gravely misled.
            In this subject area books by Gruss and others become irrelevant. They are secondary, even tertiary sources. Citing them usually does not further quality research.
            Assess each evidentiary document using these criteria: 1. Is it contemporary? 2. Is it by a participant? What is their point of view? Why do they approach the matter as they do?
            I hope this helps some of our email correspondents.  


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Some good reminders that bring to mind the folly of many (myself included at times) who too readily believe second hand things they read. As Steeley Dan once sang:

Don't believe I'm taken in by stories I have heard
I just read the Daily News and swear by every word

Son of Ton

Donald Jacobs said...

I don't think anyone is suggesting that secondary sources are useful for directly establishing what actually happened in the past. I am not suggesting this.

Reference to secondary sources is necessary, not to prove what happened in the past, but to situation arguments about what happened, based on primary data, within the context of what has already been written and argued in connection with the topic. A sophisticated interaction will also include discussion of the kinds of errors that led to false claims: whether biased selection, misrepresentation, poor inferences or other misunderstandings.

I guess you might argue that the secondary literature on a topic is so flawed, the arguments so weak and so irrelevant that they don't even need to be mentioned when presenting your findings and arguments.

Yet this is not what you have done. Your work constantly refers to the inadequacies of other secondary sources. It simply fails to reference them properly while doing so.

So even if there is an argument for ignoring secondary sources altogether when constructing an argument, I can see no argument for constantly mentioning other secondary sources in derogatory terms but refusing to use standard referencing conventions while doing so. I am not aware of serious academic history on either side of Atlantic ocean that treats secondary sources in this way.

Chris G. said...

Great comments and reminders for us all., Thank you

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

D, did we fail to footnote one of your works, leaving you upset? There is no reason whatsoever to reference a work where the author is not mentioned by name.

Sociologists do this. They think citing the work of others and every preceding argument gives their work validity. We don't. We're historians.

Your complaints are noted. This is the LAST time they'll see the light of day on this blog. You're wrong. What you're asking for is not Standard referencing conventions, at least not in the USA. Only sociologists compulsively footnote. IF we quote someone, or mention them by name, they get a footnote.

Stop whining. We noted your preference. We reject your argument as flawed, and an attempt to draw our readers to fake history. We are well aware of your anti-Russell stance. You promote referencing controversial works of no value hoping readers will tangle themselves in ill researched polemic. It will not happen.

You're a 'big boy.' If you want to find these works, a web search will take you to them.