On the Teaching and Writing of History: Responses to a by Bernard Bailyn

By Bernard Bailyn

Actual old wisdom is vital for social sanity.

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Elkins, Slavery: A Problem in Ameri­ can Institutional and Intellectual Life, 2d ed. 963 ) , p. ix. " 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. " 9. " l2 The third question commits the fallacy of fictional questions, which is discussed below. All others are examples of the fallacy of many ques­ tions, by any of the definitions listed above. Fehrenbacher's first question assumes that Reconstruction was either "shamefully harsh" or "surpris­ ingly lenient," but maybe it was something else again. The second ques­ tion assumes that there was a single presidential plan of reconstruction, which is doubtful.

And these are questions which will not be resolved before the oceans freeze over. " A scholar who carries this question to the archives can illustrate his answer by reference to historical events; he can add persuasive power to his metaphysical prop­ osition by the appearance of factual solidity. But he can no more hope to resolve the issue of inevitability by empirical research than he can hope to determine by modern methods of quantification the number of angels which might be made to perch upon the head of a proverbial pin .

11 But all of these scholars were themselves unable to keep clear of the problem they condemned. Their works are refutations of the argument that the Civil War was a "needless war," which was precipi­ tated by a "blundering generation" of American political leaders. 19 "As a historian," E. H. ' Life will be drabber. " Historians might also turn their backs upon all aspects of the metaphysical problems raised by determinism versus voluntarism, the comparative reality of individuals and groups, materialism versus idealism, and all manner of other monisms and dualisms.

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