Monday, December 05, 2005

Junk History

It has been said that "any theory is also the autobiography of the theorist" (Bruce Chatwin, What Am I Doing Here, 1989). Junk history is the species of history writing which tends to tell us much about the historian, but little about the past. Junk history is now the dominant form produced by academic historians, and for this reason, those of us who are genuinely interested in what happened in the past are turned off by most "history books" published today. Junk historians have an agenda. They speak of history writing as a form of redemption – for themselves and for a society or culture. They select out evidence which supports their pet theories and diminish or ignore evidence which runs counter to their pet theories. They have already decided what happened in the past before they seek out evidence to support their suppositions. (See our treatment of the fallacies of Observational Selection and Argument by Artifice in Humbug!)