Monday, 11 July 2016

Q. #5 How would you like your work to be subjected to such criticism?


This question comes from somebody whose work has been reviewed on the blog, but I shall keep anonymous.

My dear lady, nothing would make me happier than if somebody were to disagree, criticise or argue that my work was wrong. There is a perception that history is a science. It is not! History is an art, in which there are as many interpretations as there are interpreters. The job of the historian is not to deal in absolutes but in interpretations. In the popular world there is the perception that historians deal in facts – we don’t. One (wo)mans evidence which supports a certain viewpoint is what damns it for another historian. The most that historians can do is try to argue his or her interpretation of the evidence. If, however, you’re waiting for universal acceptance of a specific viewpoint then I would suggest that you are likely to hear Angels trumpeting the Day of Judgement first.


So, to answer the question directly, I love history and I like to think that I know a great deal about medieval Anglo-Jewry (certainly I know more about them than I do about the twenty-first century) but that does not mean that I have, or would want, the ultimate answers to the ultimate questions of my discipline. If my arguments don’t bear the scrutiny of others then I’m perfectly happy to change them as I become aware of new evidence, but I’m not going to just accept what I’m told either if I think that another viewpoint is better (though I rarely think that something is wrong – it takes an enormous lack of evidence for me to conclude this). I should also point out that some of the work I enjoy  reading the most is produced by historians with whom I have rarely (if ever) agreed on points of interpretations.  

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