Sunday, February 03, 2008

Quotations from Tosh #1: V. H. Gailbraith

One book I've been using in my senior Historiography course is John Tosh, ed., Historians on History, a reader on major trends and debates. I'm going to continue my quotations series with some material from that. Some of the posts will be from a single chapter; others will collect quotations from multiple chapters. As before, I'll highlight lines I really like.

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"History is, or ought to be, the least authoritarian of the sciences (if that is the right word). Its essential value lies in the shock and excitement aroused by the impact of the very ways and thought of the past upon the mind, and it is for this reason that actual original documents - themselves a physical survival of that past - exercise such fascination upon those who have caught something of its secret." -- V.H. Galbraith, An Introduction to the Study of History (1964), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 20.

"The lectures and the textbooks are a necessary preliminary, a grammar of the subject; but the purpose of all this grammar is to lead the student himself to the sources, from the study of which whatever power our writing and talking has is derived. Where this object is not achieved, we have failed." -- V.H. Galbraith, An Introduction to the Study of History (1964), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 20.

"To live in any period of the past is to be so overwhelmed with the sense of difference as to confess oneself unable to conceive how the present has become what it is: it is, above all, to regard the study of the original sources not as a preliminary drudgery to the making of 'history' but as its most significant function. Such an attitude, it must be allowed, is not likely to produce a Gibbon even a Macaulay. But if it makes the writing of history far more difficult, it informs the teaching of history with a new life and reality." -- V.H. Galbraith, An Introduction to the Study of History (1964), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 24.

"At present our governors, though well meaning, are still museum-bound and millionaire-minded. At best they are collectors who can be induced to buy, but only to buy exhibition pieces, whose value is a scarcity value. The purchase of old pictures, medieval psalters, original signatures, first editions, and the maintenance of derelict castles and abbeys are a sign of goodwill. But this sub-literate interest in the past, excellent in itself, should be the beginning rather than the end of governmental generosity. ... Not less important than the immediate physical preservation of the original sources of history is the task of putting them into print." -- V.H. Galbraith, An Introduction to the Study of History (1964), cited in Tosh, ed. Historians on History, p. 25.

3 comments:

Terry said...

Not less important than the immediate physical preservation of the original sources of history is the task of putting them into print."

This reminds me of the great controversy concerning the publication of parts of the Dead Seas Scrolls. Translation rights were given to a few individuals per section with the understanding that they would be published promptly, and in some cases the texts went over 40 years without publication. One magazine (Biblical Archaeology, I think, or some other publication affiliated with Hershel Shanks)published photos of the original fragments for others to translate. He was sued, I believe for copyright violation, over the issue and lost.

Which is a long way round of saying that without publication history is lost. I would go so far as to say there is a moral obligation to publish, for the good of all.

Ahistoricality said...

I agree entirely.

Copyright is a huge problem, though: the extension of copyright (Mickey Mouse Protection Acts) has created a situation where nearly every 20th century document or publication is still owned by someone, who can control access and block publications which don't have their seal of approval. Corporate documents have always been a blind spot, but they are increasingly critical to real history; personal papers, similarly, and communications like letters and email, can be a challenge for historians to get permission to use.

"Ms. Cornelius" said...

Cool! I haven't read this book, and now I must find a copy. Thanks.