British India: an american lecture

R. Darnton, “How historians play God”

The historian certainly creates life. He breathes life into the mud that he digs out of the archives. He also passes judgment on the dead. He can’t do otherwise: either Brissot spied for the police, or he did not. The facts will not go away, but their pattern changes as I rearrange them, not merely by whatever artistry I can summon up but by gestalt switches: revolutionary or police spy? philosopher or literary hack? rabbit or duck?

Perhaps, however, the either/or approach to biography is flawed. Perhaps life is a bundle of contradictions, and the attempt to impose consistency on it is wrong. Was Brissot both a dedicated revolution­ary and a crass spy for the police?

God only knows. The historian knows, but imperfectly, through documents darkly, with help from hubris, by playing God.

R. Darnton, “How historians play God”,
Cromohs
, 11 (2006): 1-3, <URL: http://www.cromohs.unifi.it/11_2006/darnton_historians.html>

The reference to rabbit or duck is to Wittgenstein’s discussion on the Duck-Rabbit in the Philosophical Investigations and the problem of being certain about that which one sees and reports as seeing (in Darton’s case – our case – this is normally a lack of certainty about what one reads and reports as reading).

 

Liberty, Equality, Fraternity: a website about the French Revolution

This collaboration between two US universities is worth perusing.

The French Revolution: other ways of learning

The Open University has for a long time now been trying to offer the course materials its work generates online through LearningSpace & there is a wealth of material available.  This unit on the French Revolution will be worth looking at.

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