How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

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zauberdachs
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How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby zauberdachs » Tue Apr 05, 2011 2:03 pm

There is a huge amount of knowledge and experience on these forums and if you want to get the most out of that knowledge then the best way to do that is to ask your question in a structured historian-like way.
These guidelines are in no way compulsory but might help you to get the most out of the debate.

Firstly, before you commit anything to the forum it's worth knowing that many people on this forum are no longer youths and find it difficult to understand text speak, so please have a careful think about how you present yourself: a well drafted, legible and polite enquiry will get more responses.

Generally what happens on these forums is: (a) someone pitches in with a question, (b) others will then chip in with different "evidence" and (C) then people interpret this evidence to find an answer to the question. Simple enough. However there are various mistakes that can be made at every part of this process that annoy and frustrate.

(a) Someone pitches in with a questions: how to enquire in a Historical fashion

"History" the word itself means approximately "knowledge from inquiry." Basically: you wish to know, you enquire and then you know.

Seems obvious? However one of the most common mistakes I see on this forum and re-enactment in general is the following different formula: you wish something in particular to be true, so you search to confirm this perspective and then your inquiry confirms your wish. Basically a self-fulfilling prophecy or bias.

In history we are supposed to keep an open mind and curb our own personal views. If you already know the answer then your conclusions will not be forged by the "facts" and you have crossed the line into either politics or fantasy.

Let me provide examples of the differences.

The more historical process:

1. I wonder what armour a 15th century man-at-arms wore?
2. What is the evidence?
3. This is the evidence
4. I'll make my choices within what the evidence suggests
5. I have armour that I can plausibly demonstrate a15th century man-at-arms wore

The less historical process:

1. I thinks this armour looks really cool but before my group will let me use it I need "evidence"
2. What is the evidence?
3. Well that doesn't entirely support my position
4. I'll select, rationalise and distort the evidence until it fits my view as outlined in 1.
5. Yey! I can wear the armour I want.

So, point is, don't start a discussion on the forum with a closed mind. You might think you know what the answers is but wait until you've seen the evidence.

On the same subject, there is no dogma: nothing is more certain than we can be certain of nothing. So the best we can ever say is "the evidence would tend to indicate this" or, possibly more importantly, "I've not seen any evidence that would convince me of that." Although we may shorthand it to something more blunt in normal conversation that should be what we are thinking. A little humility about what we know, and what we think we know, would go a long way. More importantly, I think almost any expert would say the same about any conclusions they have drawn.

As John Keynes said: “When the facts change, I change my position. What do you do, sir?”

(b)Others will then chip in with different "evidence": How to properly interpret evidence:

Evidence is difficult to understand. There is a reason why historians go to university to study history; and in part it's because history, particularly primary sources, are difficult to understand. The best way to get a view on the evidence is in discussion with the other users on the forum who might have further knowledge and different perspectives. Most things can be used as evidence providing they are relevant to the discussion but not all evidence is equal. Generally speaking what happens during the discussion of evidence is that different people evaluate how "good" it is. It's worth pointing out that anyone even lots of experts and historians are less knowledgable than we might want to think and if they often stand on the shoulders of giants, those giants are occasionally stood in the wrong place. You should never to afraid to question the view put forward by another user if it seems to have shortcomings and, on the other hand, no one should ever be on such a high pedestal that they cannot explain to a polite enquiry how they came to an opinion to another user.

Relative merits of evidence. All forms of evidence each has it's own short-comings. For instance written evidence can be confusing because words change their meaning over time, images might better reflect the time and place they were painted or the beliefs and lack of knowledge of the artist than the scene portrayed, archaeology can have context which is either too undefined or too specific.

Some examples of criteria on which to judge evidence:

* In general the more we know about the evidence the "better" it is: i.e. where was it produced, when was it produced, who produced, why did they produce it etc
* The closer both chronologically and physically the evidence is to event the "better" it is: i.e. if you're looking for evidence about 15th c English armour then armour/sources from the 15th c England is best.
* Primary sources are better than secondary sources. I.e. it is better to use the example of an original piece of armour rather than to use a source of a later historian talking about an original piece of armour.
* The number of different types of evidence pointing to the same conclusion can make that evidence "better". 5 mediocre sources can be considered "better" than 1 ok source.
* If it can be demonstrated that certain evidence has no or less bias then that evidence is "better."

Some examples of not very good evidence:

* Anecdotal evidence. While experimental archaeology is a perfectly valid form of evidence it is one of the most difficult to get right, to create an experiment that re-creates all the relevant variables. If it doesn't full fill stringent criteria it is in effect Anecdotal evidence. The fact that you personally cannot pull a 200lb longbow, that you find a certain item useful for a certain job, that you cannot move in certain armour really doesn't really mean anything without some historical evidence to back it up. Anecdotal evidence is useful for guiding your inquiries down an avenue where you can find historical evidence to support that conclusion. I.e. you discover a tool is particularly good at a job and this guides you to look at the materials for evidence of that tool being used however it is only if there is evidence of tool use that this becomes useful.

* Argument's from Authority. Basically that person X said something and because person X is a world expert therefore it must be true. It is always worth tempering any primary evidence with the opinions of experts, who may have a larger context or better experience of how to interpret the data and it can certainly help guide discussions. However the opinions of experts doesn't count as evidence in of itself. For example a world authority on Scottish History made a passage in which he envisioned kilted dark age Scots charging into battle and this passage was used by certain other individuals as evidence of the early existence of the kilt. Upon enquiry with the expert he dismissed his passage as written for dramatic effect with no basis on evidence what-so-ever.

* Correlation is not Causation. Just because the evidence indicates an apparent direct connection between two things, it doesn't make it so. For instance, did you know that there is a really strong correlation between the number of telephone masts in area and the birth rate. We know it's nonsense that telephone masts increase fertility but even so it is a tempting conclusion to draw and if it were less ridiculous we might understand exactly that from it. The most common (but not only) mistake is when a third factor is responsible for both, as is the case here. Telephone companies use a formula to determine the number of masts required, driven almost exclusively from population density, which is also the key driver for geographic analysis of birth rate.

Drawing conclusions from the Evidence

Despite what people might think there is nothing wrong with people drawing different conclusions from the same evidence and after a robust debate it is often the sensible outcome. But what can really annoy people is that people should be able to explain how they reached their conclusions from a reasoning of the evidence. Simply saying "I believe this is so because it is common sense" could be true but you have to be able to explain the chain of logic, i.e. the evidence you have used to come to the conclusion it is common sense, otherwise your conclusion brings little of use to the discussion.
Last edited by zauberdachs on Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:47 am, edited 6 times in total.


Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory. For truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true - Nennius, 8th century

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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby chrisanson » Tue Apr 05, 2011 3:44 pm

i'm sorry but i find that a bit condescending



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby zauberdachs » Tue Apr 05, 2011 3:55 pm

chrisanson wrote:i'm sorry but i find that a bit condescending


That's not my intention, how could this be improved?


Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory. For truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true - Nennius, 8th century

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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Fox » Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:24 pm

Mr. Z, that's excellent and I don't disagree with any of it in particular.

I would add the following corollaries:
  • No Dogma
    Nothing is more certain than we can be certain of nothing.
    The best we can ever say is "the evidence would tend to indicate this" or, possibly more importantly, "I've not seen any evidence that would convice me of that." Although we may shorthand it to something more blunt in normal conversation that should be what we are thinking.
    A little humility about what we know, and what we think we know, would go a long way.
    More importantly, I think almost any expert would say the same about any conclusions they have drawn.
  • Relative merits of evidence
    I would extend what you said about practical archeology to all forms of evidence, each of which has it's own short-comings. For instance, written evidence can be confusing because words change their meaning, images might better reflect the time and place they were painted or the beliefs and [lack of] knowledge of the artist than the scene portrayed, archeology can have context which is either too undefined or too specific.
    So it is possible for practical archeology to teach us things that could not be learned otherwise [or at least would be difficult to learn]. I cannot move properly in this armour, especially if by move properly you mean perform a manouver shown in a historic manual, is a valid line of enquiry that might make you re-examine the armour, the manual, or both.
  • Evidence is difficult to understand
    There is a reason why historians go to university to study history; and in part it's because history, particularly primary sources, are difficult to understand.
    It is always worth tempering any primary evidence with the opinons of experts, who may have a larger context or better experience of how to interpet the data.
  • Experts can still be wrong
    Contrarywise, lots of experts and historians are less knowledgable than we might want to think, and often they stand on the shoulders of giants, and those giants are occasionally stood in the wrong place.
    And they are as prone to the error, flights of fancy and just the plain temptation of good copy as much as anyone else; perhaps if trying to profit from the process or ride their favourite hobby horse, more so.
    Also they may not know how to analyse the evidence they have; if you believe all experts know how to analysis evidence you should go and read something about cot death mis-trials
  • Analysis of Evidence
    In fact, most people don't know how to analyse data and evidence; they think they do, but our instictive understand of information can be powerfully intuative (reinforcing this belief), but also completely misleading and wrong. I can present any number of clever puzzles to illustrate those two contrary points.
    However, let me pick the most powerful point I think we should remember: "Correlation is not Causation".
    For instance, did you know that there is a really strong correlation between the number of telephone masts in area and the birth rate. We know it's nonsence that telephone masts increase fertillity, but even so it's a tempting conclusion to draw, and if it were less ridiculous we might understand exactly that from it.
    The most common (but not only) mistake is when a third factor is responsible for both, as is the case here.
    Telephone companies use a formula to determine the number of masts required, driven almost exclusively from population denisity, which is also the key driver for geographic analysis of birth rate.
    Just because the evidence indicates an apparent direct connection between two things, it doesn't make it so; although it does point and wiggle its eyebrows suggestively.



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Fox » Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:28 pm

chrisanson wrote:i'm sorry but i find that a bit condescending

Nevertheless, I think he has identified a lot of the shortcomings with debates on this forum, and you can probably go back and find that I have been guilty of all of them; especially if you went back to the old forum, but regretably also more recently.



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby zauberdachs » Tue Apr 05, 2011 5:33 pm

Fox wrote:Nevertheless, I think he has identified a lot of the shortcomings with debates on this forum


It strikes me that it might be nice to raise the bar a little considering that we have many people on this forum with decades of practical research and experience, with university degrees or doctorates, who are professional historians, archaeologists, teachers. To my mind the "chat and banter" side of the forum seems to have overtaken the informative historical discussion side to the point where this has ceased to become a place I would recommend to people for help or learning.

I don't think a single sticky could accomplish any great rebooting but it would be nice to give people who are new to the subject altogether an introduction to some of the basic ideas that underpin historical discourse.

Fox wrote:Mr. Z, that's excellent and I don't disagree with any of it in particular.

I would add the following corollaries:


Those are good points, how would it be best to compile these points into a sticky?


Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory. For truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true - Nennius, 8th century

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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby chrisanson » Tue Apr 05, 2011 5:55 pm

it would be fine as a sticky as long as it was not looked upon as the rule, i just think that this is a forum and should stay that way. this is a hobby that is looked upon from very different prospective s form different people (one that comes readily to mind is cost i get things as good as can but within my means for example ) i am not criticizing your view i just think that other peoples views should be taken into consideration.



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Fox » Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:06 pm

chrisanson wrote:it would be fine as a sticky as long as it was not looked upon as the rule

Absolutely!

chrisanson wrote:one that comes readily to mind is cost i get things as good as can but within my means for example

I would say everyone makes compromises when re-enacting, often ones that suit our convinience, like being inappropriately overweight, for instance.
Because of the hobbies terrible fixation with stuff, it is possible to feel like it can't be done on a budget; personally I think knowledge and skill are at least as important, if not more so, and terriblely undervalued in the hobby as a whole.

That said that's a slightly different argument, because Zauberdachs is talking specifcally about historical research.

Nevertheless, not everyone is intellectually inclinded, and this part of the forum should support them too. In fact everyone, knowledgable or not, should still feel they can ask the stupid questions.



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby chrisanson » Tue Apr 05, 2011 7:50 pm

well said, i have noticed a difference online over the last few years to when i first started looking into this hobby. if i ha encountered some of the reply's to simple and easily answered questions i think i would have not bothered(which would have robbed me of some very enjoyable times and good friends!). i think things of this sort should always consider the new folk and the possible new folk as it could " frighten" ( not the right word but i think you know what i mean) away and that would be as damaging as having something thats not quite right as far as kit goes. something that's usually put right by the group by a bit of polite barracking or a quiet word. and ................................ a forum is a forum :)



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Dave B » Tue Apr 05, 2011 9:57 pm

chrisanson wrote:i'm sorry but i find that a bit condescending


Indeed, that was my first post. However I think that is mostly because it lacks a little in the way of introduction.

I think it needs to say (paraphrasing) that there is a huge amount of knowledge and experience on the forums, and that if you want to get the best out of that knowledge then the best way to do that is to ask the question in a structured historian-like way. these guildelines are in no way compulsary, but might help you to get the most out of the debate.

and I'd like to add the following condecending point. some of us are no longer youths, and find it difficult to read textspeak.

Anyway, carry on chaps, hammer something together and let me know when you want it stickying.


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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby zauberdachs » Wed Apr 06, 2011 8:57 am

chrisanson wrote:it would be fine as a sticky as long as it was not looked upon as the rule,


Yes, I was thinking of it more as a "FYI" page. If we have it as a sticky then rather than people feeling they had to be snippy or bitchy because they are basically fed up of repeating the same "please explain your point of view", "supply some evidence for your position" and "that is not really evidence because" they could direct people to some information on what many people consider to be implicit "rules" of historical debate. The recent thread on sleeveless jacks I would suggest is a prime example of this.
Last edited by zauberdachs on Wed Apr 06, 2011 4:43 pm, edited 1 time in total.


Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory. For truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true - Nennius, 8th century

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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby zauberdachs » Wed Apr 06, 2011 9:42 am

Dave B wrote:Anyway, carry on chaps, hammer something together and let me know when you want it stickying.


I have updated the original post and I hope I have managed to assimilate all the points so far. Please let me know if I've missed anything or not accurately reflected what you were trying to say.


Do not be loath, diligent reader, to winnow my chaff, and lay up the wheat in the storehouse of your memory. For truth regards not who is the speaker, nor in what manner it is spoken, but that the thing be true - Nennius, 8th century

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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Dave B » Wed Apr 06, 2011 11:20 am

Looks good, but not sure I should be the judge - I'm not always as good as I should be at these things.

Anyway, lets sticky it for now, but leave it open and see if anyone else wants to comment. If it flies we'll have to discuss with other furum users whether it should be in the other forum areas. If it doesn't we'll unsticky it and let it sink.

Dave.


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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby chrisanson » Wed Apr 06, 2011 3:51 pm

zauberdachs wrote:
chrisanson wrote:it would be fine as a sticky as long as it was not looked upon as the rule,


Yes, I was thinking of it was more as "FYI" page. If we have it as a sticky then rather than people feeling they had to be snippy or bitchy because they are basically fed up of repeating the same "please explain your point of view", "supply some evidence for your position" and "that is not really evidence because" they could direct people to some information on what many people consider to be implicit "rules" of historical debate. The recent thread on sleeveless jacks I would suggest is a prime example of this.



in that case i'l shut me big gob :wink:



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Re: How about a sticky "guidelines to historical discussion"

Postby Brian la Zouche » Sat Apr 27, 2013 8:58 am

i find it very hard to get over in print what i'm actually asking. a couple of years ago i had brought a padded gambeson ( jack, or whatever you call it ) and i found that while trying to draw a longbow the elbow was too restrictive, so i wondered if a short sleeved one was historical correct, and posed the question, i had replies along the line of ' why' would people chose to not have their forearms protected, as well as ideas on widening/ altering the elbows etc, etc
my reasoning was from the re-enactment side was, i would have some extra padding defense instead of just 'soft kit' plus its a nice and warm piece of clothing on cold windy days, true in my own mind i thought it would look good on me, sorta give me the image i wanted, so i sought any information on if they were in fact authentic, it was not the case of ''i have a lords of the rings sword' please just someone say its ok so i can use it.
i think most of the replies i had were negative in the fact they did not fully understand what i was saying, or took my request to be along of 'i want, so please justify it' which was never the case.
two years later it still remains long sleeved, as i have not found any real justification for my shortening of the sleeves, but i never received any 'informative' information as to yay or nay

i always try and do a web search for as much information as i can on a subject before i post on here, as i have found some questions i have are often solved one way or another by those means , however i tried to find out what a typical run of the mill 14th century english archer would have his buttons made of, the web searches all directed me to pewter, mainly because these were traders who sold buttons listed as 14/ 15th cent buttons, however i request on here all sent me to cloth buttons as being fairly typical of my status and period,( which is the image i seek )

maybe i worded my button request better, or maybe those who replied actually got what i was actually asking

i think when we pose a question we need ( well i do ) to ensure we try and pose it in such a way as it can not be taken the wrong way, but also i think anyone who replies should try and avoid drawing conclusions about the nature of the post too

i have found these forums to be very helpful :thumbup:




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