Skip to main content

Posts

I've just read "Peak Document and the Future of History" by J.R. McNeill

I've just read "Peak Document and the Future of History" by J.R. McNeill. It is the Presidential Address he delivered on as outgoing President of the American Historical Association (published now at 125 Am. Hist. Rev. 1-18 (2020) and available at https://academic.oup.com/ahr/article/125/1/1/5721569.

Professor McNeill is alerting all historically minded persons to the rather impressive array of techniques being developed by practitioners of the natural sciences that promise expand the practice of history. "Paleogenomicists, paleoclimatologists, paleopathologists, paleo-everything are flooding the scientific landscape with new information about the human past and other pasts that infringe upon the human." He gives quite a few examples of scientific work that has already changed prior understanding of historical matters, and he surmises that scientific information and discoveries may supplant texts as the main sources of history, in the near future.

His conclusio…
Recent posts

I'm working on a biography of Hatton Sumners and . . .

I'm working on a biography of Hatton Sumners, and I just now read a really cogent explanation by an excellent historian of the type of history known as biography:

"biography is like any other historical work. You pick your topic, you tell your narrative, and you hope to educate the reader about the importance and causalities of both. While biography has its pitfalls and limitations, it also offers perspectives on the past that cannot be as effectively accomplished through other methodologies. Done right, biography is both highly readable and informative. It educates readers in ways in which institutional or thematic histories are less effective—namely, mixing the personal with the public. Hence, although biography can’t replace institutional or thematic history, neither can alternate methodology fully replace what biography brings to the table either."

Charles L. Zelden, "All Rise: The Prospects and Challenges of Lower Federal Judicial Biography to Federal Judicial …

...and here is another short article, just published...

Here is my newest article to go into print, titled "What's In a Name?: The History, and Proper Usage, of the Names 'Texas Bar Association' and 'State Bar of Texas'," at pages 15-17 in the Fall 2019 issue of *In Chambers,* the journal of the Texas Center for the Judiciary. This article is a by-product of my very long, forthcoming paper/article/book chapter(s) on the history of the Texas Bar Association, 1882-1940....


"Most historical work involves an interplay between past and present"

"Most historical work involves an interplay between past and present. If it is good historical work, the past will have something to teach; at the least, a richer sense of the past might safeguard us against an oversimple depiction of the present. Yet it is the present that proposes the questions we ask, and the present-day contentions and excitements over [controversial matters] and their importance furnishe[s] the impetus for . . . study."

Samuel Haber, The Quest for Authority and Honor in the American Professions, 1750-1900 at 359-60 (1991).

Santayana and Twain . . .

"The American philosopher George Santayana once wrote that '[t]hose who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it'--implying, perhaps, that if we educate ourselves, we can escape the destinies that our ancestors have woven for
us. This is not true, of course. If only it were. Life would be easier if we could use the lessons of history to predict the future, and thus to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past. But as the humorist Samuel Clemens (better known as Mark Twain) once observed: "History doesn't repeat itself-at best it sometimes rhymes."Like poetry, history is enigmatic: it asks more questions than it answers. Is 2006 likely to resemble 1976, with a guerrilla war behind us but economic misery ahead in the forms of high inflation (or more likely, a declining dollar),high energy prices, and stagnating wages? What about 1926--the height of that experiment in public morality known as 'Prohibition'--when our enchantment with 'borro…