Southern Supplements

"We have sung of the soldiers and sailors, but who shall hymn the politicians?"
—Herman Melville

The great classicist and poet A.E. Housman once wrote that the work of a scholar in the humanities is not like that of a scientist examining specimens under a microscope—it is more like the work of a dog searching for fleas. Housman thus punctured the scientific pretensions of some humanists and made an appeal for the old-fashioned virtues of painstaking work, common sense, and humble judgment. As another great British scholar, Veronica Wedgwood, put it: "History is an art—like all the other sciences."

It follows, and is indeed a truism, that all historians are biased. None escapes entirely the effects of his allegiances and preoccupations. But it is also true that some historians are more competent—and more honest—than others. Yet another great English historian. Sir Herbert Butterfield, suggested that it is best to trust those historians who are aware of and admit their own biases and who, as much as possible, separate the scholarly task of determining what happened and why from a personal moral judgment of these events—and that it is well to suspect and discount those historians who are eager to make sweeping moral condemnations, forgetting not only that there are at least two sides to every question but that we have all of...

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