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June 01, 2005

Today's Snark Prize Goes to

Miriam Burstein. Very high quality snark:

The Little Professor: Cited by: Donald Kagan's Jefferson Lecture. Despite Kagan's warnings against the dangers of over-generalization, his critique of contemporary historiography was so non-specific--apparently, we're still stuck in 80s crusades against DWM--that I had a hard time finding the "there" there.... Being an English professor, albeit of the old-fashioned literary-historical variety, I naturally pricked up my ears (eyes?) when I stumbled across some references to Stanley Fish and Paul de Man. I was a tad puzzled to discover that Kagan didn't cite Stanley Fish and Paul de Man directly, but only from excerpts: Fish from Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals and de Man from David Lehman's Signs of the Times: Deconstruction and the Fall of Paul de Man.

When I teach my graduate students how to evaluate secondary sources, I always ask them to consider how many times the author chooses to cite primary sources that have been quoted in other works, as opposed to citing directly from the original texts. While it's legitimate to cite a primary source "quoted in" another work when you cannot access the original text... there's no excuse for citing easily available sources in such a fashion. How can you tell if the quotation has been taken out of context or misquoted? What if your secondary source hasn't understood the original text? There's something rather depressing about reading a paean to traditional historical inquiry, only to discover that the author is generalizing about something that he apparently knows only in snippets and at secondhand.... Now, Richard J. Evans does a fine job of critiquing postmodern theories of history, precisely because he's done the reading, has clearly thought about it at some length, and can separate the wheat from the chaff. No vague handwaving there...

Posted by DeLong at June 1, 2005 04:23 PM