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"to reproduce the reality of a time passed"

I just read the essay "Rebellious History" by one of the historians I most respect, Annette Gordon-Reed, appearing in the October 22, 2020, issue of the New York Review. She reviews Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women, and Queer Radicals by Saidiya Hartman, just published by Norton. This passage in the review resonates with me: "Most people understand that it is impossible to reproduce the reality of a time passed, no matter how many documents exist about a person or an event. The general aim, however—the expectation—is that the historian will try as hard as he or she can to come as close as possible to reconstructing that reality." 

Recent posts

My op-ed in the Dallas Morning News about the idea of "court packing"

I celebrate the Life of David B. Gracy (1941-2020), Archivist Extraordinaire

Sad news of David Gracy's death on September 26th. David was an archivist in practice, a professor of library science and archives at UT Austin, and Ph.D. in history who authored several books including his last one, a biography of George W. Littlefield published just last November, A Man Absolutely Sure of Himself: Texan George Washington Littlefield. When I saw him in Austin last fall, David hinted that his health was not good, but he and I were planning to have lunch when I was going to be in Austin early in 2020 (this was before the onset of the plague of virus). I was not expecting his death.
I first met David back in 1982 or 1983 when the "History Committee" of the State Bar of Texas (of which I was the junior lawyer-member by at least 35 years) was talking about creating an archive for bar-organization and professional history. David was the consultant (working gratis) for the project. 
Today the State Bar Archive exists in the basement of the bar's headquarters…

Historic Election Disputes…and a Better Way to Resolve Them

[This is the second topic on which I spoke to the Downtown Kiwanis Club of my hometown Pampa, Texas, when I was there to attend my high school class's fiftieth reunion the last weekend of June 2019. The first part of my presentation, which I posted on my blog on July 2, 2019, was a short reminiscence of my years 1966-1969 as a member and then the President of the Pampa High School's Key Club. The second part, which follows here, was about the very serious topic of the way by which, historically, the most significant election disputes within living memories (LBJ v. Coke Stevenson and Bush v. Gore) were resolved—i.e., by lawyering—and also about the current proposal of the American Law Institute for a much, much better way to resolve ballot disputes.] 
Historic Election Disputes…and a Better Way to Resolve Them  by Josiah M. Daniel, III  (revised from remarks delivered to the Downtown Kiwanis Club of Pampa, Texas, June 27, 2019) 
I wish to cover three things: first, the litigated en…

The work of the lawyer vs. the work of the historian

The following passage, about the tension between the work of the lawyer and the work of the historian, which I just found, resonates with me: “In October 1888, Frederic William Maitland delivered his first lecture as Downing Professor at Cambridge University. Titled ‘Why the History of English Law Is Not Written,’ his speech was intended both to explain the undeveloped state of English legal history and to summon future scholars to the fray. Certainly Maitland (1850-1906) did not doubt the significance of his special field. ‘Legal documents . . .’ he said, ‘are the best, often the only evidence that we have for social and economic history, for the history of morality, for the history of practical religion.’ Yet, such documents, including reports of cases and other proceedings, were neglected by English historians in the 1800s just as similar American documents are underused by many historians today, all despite the fact that the common law nations are remarkable for their preservati…


Our younger son once showed my wife and me a documentary about Eric Clapton (I think all our close friends know that my wife is a national-level expert on Clapton after having read everything ever written about him), and in the film B.B. King is interviewed (it appeared the interview was from the late sixties or earlier seventies) and asked whether some of the white guys (mainly Brits) who were pursuing blues guitar-work, such as Eric, were equivalent to those great black guitar artists of the United States, and King said “Yes, no doubt of that,” and then the interviewer asked King if the white guys were equivalent in their vocalizations to the great black blues artists, and King replied, “Are you kidding? No!” The interviewer persisted, “Why not?” and King replied, “They ain’t got SOUL.” The interviewer asked what he meant, and King responded, “They ain’t lived through everything we [i.e. African Americans] have had to live through.” That is about as good an explanation as I have ev…

Use of history in legal decision-making . . . and bourbon

I want to discuss the uses and abuses of history by courts in the decision-making of litigation. To set the stage, here is one example:  Maker's Mark Distillery v. Diageo North America: And since we are talking about bourbon, here is that classic appreciation of the amber beverage by the novelist Walker Percy: