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Old 13th July 2005, 15:30
Rabe Anton Rabe Anton is offline
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Alabama U.S.A.
Posts: 254
Rabe Anton

SES and Tony Williams have, perhaps unwittingly, put their finger on yet another major deficit in David Isby's Luftwaffe-related publications. Isby is quite right that certain primary documents have value in the market-place and that some consumers are interested in such materials. What he seems to think, however, is that primary documents speak for themselves. They do not. A worthwhile documents compilation, or "book of readings" as academics call them, is a miserable failure without commentary that puts the documents and their authors in their historical setting. This means at least several biographical paragraphs on the author(s), explicating his/their views, life experiences, careers, concerns, purposes in writing, and so forth. Even their religious upbringing and psychological state could conceivably bear on their outlook and thus their writing, official and military though it be. It also means that each document should be accompanied by an extended, carefully researched statement of its origins, why it was produced, what its objectives were, what its strengths and shortcomings are, possible prejudices and blinders, and so forth. In other words, each document must be set against the historical tapestry that produced it.

Extended annotations about document authors and about individual items in a published collection should be presented just before the writing on which they bear, not off at the front or rear of the book as they are in Fighting the Bombers. Annotations—individual footnotes explaining terms or pointing out special points—rightly belong after each document.

The hard, nasty, gritty truth is this: document compilations are among the most difficult and sophisticated of historical writings. Successful compilations require at least as much research and loving care as do synthetic monographs. If Isby had obtained a graduate (preferably doctoral) level education in history and, better yet, if he had lived and worked for extended periods in the academic milieu of the discipline, he would have immediately grasped the characteristics required to produce a meaningful assembly of primary materials. The documents, Mr. Isby, do NOT speak for themselves . . . and, as SES and Tony Williams have perceived, the reader both needs and deserves to be fully informed about the complexion and content of each writing included in his manuscript.

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