After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by James West Davidson, Mark Lytle

By James West Davidson, Mark Lytle

For greater than twenty-five years, After the Fact has guided scholars via American background and the equipment used to review it. In dramatic episodes that circulation chronologically via American historical past, this best-selling booklet examines a large number of themes together with oral proof, photos, ecological information, motion pictures and tv courses, church and city files, census info, and novels. no matter if for an introductory survey or for a ancient tools path, After as a matter of fact the correct textual content to introduce readers, step-by-step, to the detective paintings and analytical techniques historians use once they are literally doing heritage.

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But there are no written records, let alone anything as for­ mal as a census. How can historians even begin to calculate a precontact population? One method has been to collect, adjust, and average available estimates from early European explorers and settlers. By proceeding region by region, researchers can assemble numbers that provide an approximate total of Indian inhabitants when Europeans arrived. During the early twentieth cen­ tury, anthropologist James Mooney did just that. 1 million. A decade later, anthropologist Alfred Kroeber reduced the esti­ mate to 1 million or less.

Last but not least, scholars have come to realize that in South America De Soto and his commander Francisco Pizarro benefited from the diseases that had decimated Incan settlements a half dozen years earlier. According to one Spanish chronicle, "a great plague of smallpox broke out [around 1524 or 1525], so severe that more than 200,000 died of it, for it spread to all parts 24 AFTER THE FACT: THE AltT OF HISTORICAL DETECTION The pustules from smallpox were horrifying and painful. In their own drawings, the Lakota Sioux used a spiral symbol to indicate the intense pain associated with the disease.

But the two make a useful pair. In fitting together the facts surrounding Deane's death, we came to understand that history is not simply ''what happened in the past," but rather a construc­ tion of it, fashioned from the raw materials of that past. As De Soto's story will show, we need to take that insight one step further. History is not only constructed; it is continually in need of reconstruction. It needs to be reas­ sembled and rebuilt, over and over again. Skeptics resist the notion that history has to be refashioned on a regular basis.

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