More than a year ago now I watched an interview with historian David Hackett Fischer, whom you know, all three of you, my dear readership, I greatly admire as a scholar and historian.
In the interview the good professor answers a number of questions by callers to the show as well as emailed queries.
As I recall, Fischer very skillfully answers their questions and calmly endures at least one of them who seemed, to me at least, a tad bit belligerent.
The very last question posed to Fischer, submitted via email, addressed "problems with reading history today:"
When I read two different history books on the same subject, [says the enquirer,] both versions sound reasonable to me and they are often widely divergent. How are non-historians to learn how to evaluate these writings?I would say here that history isn't the only field where one might find two reasonable-sounding books that are widely divergent in their evaluation of evidence and presentation of conclusions.
And I don't think Professor Fischer's answer applies only to students of history, either.
He said that there are at least two ways the lay reader might approach this problem, the first is to "center on the point of friction between two works and then read a third book," and the second is to find and read primary sources, in short, "become your own historian."
"It's that principle of inquiry, I think, that's the answer to that problem, just keep the inquiry going."