I have posted a new page on this website: How to Share a Primary Source, with tips for researchers, teachers, students, and public historians.
Category Archives: Uncategorized
“Learn the facts, then try on the stories like clothes.”
Motivated by all the praise of John le Carré following his death in December, I’ve been reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. For the historian, surely the great line is “Learn the facts, Steed-Asprey used to say, then try on the stories like clothes.”
Getting that sequence right is harder than it sounds, and I’ve fallen into the traps of trying to squeeze facts into stories that looked good on the rack, and of trying to present facts naked to the world.
Steed-Asprey was right. The facts are not the story, and the historian’s job is indeed to try on several stories, to find the one that fits and brings out the facts to their best advantage.
The Princeton Guide to Historical Research, coming 2021
In spring 2021, Princeton University Press will publish my book, The Princeton Guide to Historical Research, a greatly expanded version of this website. I am grateful to everyone who offered feedback on this site over the years, making it better and helping prepare me to write the book.
The press lists an expected publication date of April 27, 2021, and a price of only $24.95 in paperback. Through August 31, 2021, use the code ZS30 to get a 30 percent discount.
For more on the series in which the book will appear, see: Peter Dougherty and Barbara Tonetti, “Skills for Scholars The New Tools of the Trade,” Princeton University Press (blog), August 18, 2020, https://press.princeton.edu/ideas/skills-for-scholars-the-new-tools-of-the-trade.
In 2013, I first posted a list of some of my favorite history-related audiobooks. I have posted an updated list of 106 books, all available on Audible.com.
“First, Learn How to Write.”
Adam Bryant, “Kathleen Finch: Get Better Ideas With a ‘Pile On’ Meeting,” The New York Times, September 5, 2015.
What advice do you give to new college grads?
I give two pieces of advice. First, learn how to write. No matter what you’re studying in college, be a great writer because it can stymie your career if you’re not. And second, get your foot in the door. If you have a dream job or a dream place to work, take any job that will get you in as long as you’re reporting or visible to important people.
Then raise your hand. Work hard. Be the person about whom everybody says, “She’s next, she’s the one who can do it.”
Outline an article in a page and a half
To complement my existing instructions on How to Write an Outline, I have added an Article Outline Example. By keeping the outline to just the top two levels, this document outlines Wells’s article in just a page and a half.
Uncritical Reading Erodes American Liberty
The New York Times reports on a study arguing that Supreme Court justices fail to read amicus briefs with sufficient attention to the sources they cite.
In a 2011 decision about the privacy rights of scientists who worked on government space programs, Justice Alito cited an amicus brief to show that more than 88 percent of American companies perform background checks on their workers.
“Where this number comes from is a mystery,” Professor Larsen wrote. “It is asserted in the brief without citation.”
In a 2012 decision allowing strip searches of people arrested for even minor offenses as they are admitted to jail, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy cited an amicus brief to show that there are an “increasing number of gang members” entering the nation’s prisons and jails. The brief itself did little more than assert that “there is no doubt” this was so.
Liptak, Adam. “Seeking Facts, Justices Settle for What Briefs Tell Them.” New York Times, September 1, 2014. http://www.nytimes.com/2014/09/02/us/politics/the-dubious-sources-of-some-supreme-court-facts.html.
Note: I did not read the original study. But I’d like to think that Professor Larsen is less obviously partial than the authors of amicus briefs.
How to Write an Outline
I have posted a new page, “How to Write an Outline.”
An outline should organize a long work into smaller sections and highlight the major findings of a body of research.
A Thesis Statement for the Super Genius
A nice weighing of alternatives:
In the Road Runner cartoons, the Coyote’s real antagonist isn’t the Road Runner. It’s the desert landscape and, you know, the ACME Corporation, who are conspiring to make his life miserable.
Eric Molinsky, quoted in “Noble Effort,” 99% Invisible: A Tiny Radio Show about Design with Roman Mars, August 2013 (7:26).
See “A Thesis Statement Template.”
How to Use Examples to Evaluate Scholarship
In preparation for my summer graduate seminar, I’ve posted a page on “How to Use Examples to Evaluate Scholarship.” Comments appreciated.