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I'm going to do a longer thread today in honor of #CiteBlackWomenSunday. But here's a mini-thread 1st w/ an explanation of my reply to a medievalist colleague @tlecaque in a different conversation. He had recommended that s/o read "all" my works. I said, no, start w/ just a few.
Why just a few? Obviously, there are only so many hours in the day. The last time I counted (which was several years ago), I had already pub'd over 4000 pages of work. Even I couldn't read all that now! But the more important reason is that I have always believed that we build ..
... our historical understandings in layers. We need a basic "skeleton" of hard facts: a sense of chronology, of space, of a kind of "physics" of the real world & its limits (e.g., what kinds of transportation are available). On that skeletal framework we then layer other ...
.. pieces of knowledge. If the skeletal support is strong, we can accumulate a lot of knowledge about aspects of history! But what if we learn that some of those foundational facts are wrong? How much of the whole edifice needs to be taken down, rearranged, discarded?
That's why, in recommending to s/o whom I assumed to be a neophyte to plague studies, I recommended just 3 of my works: 1) a brief presentation I did for the "Mother of All Pandemics" Webinar a couple of weeks ago; 2) an essay on learning how to teach the #BlackDeath; and ...
.. 3) a blogpost I did re: the 2017 plague outbreak in Madagascar. Why these three? The 1st (video & PPT) does the work of tearing down the "skeleton" of old (& I think erroneous) ideas about the #BlackDeath. That's a crucial start, in my view, b/c it's vital to know why those ..
.. particular views need to be singled out & challenged. The 2nd, on #BlackDeath pedagogy, then goes into a deeper dive of explaining what *new* information has been put on the table in recent years & why it's important. Indeed, I argue that much of it is transformational.
Now that we have a sense of what is old (& should be jettisoned), what is old (& should be retained), & what is new (& should be embraced & incorporated), we can turn to the 3rd piece, why addresses an equal vital question: Why is this important to us now? Most people don't ...
.. know this about me, but I've spend over 20 years wrestling w/ the "So what?" question of pre-modern infectious disease history. Why does the history of leprosy matter? Part of the answer is that it still exists in the world today! Why does the history of plague matter? ...
Because it, too, still exists in the world today. I actually think nothing is more important in our work as historians than that we "get it right." That we keep interrogating our foundational structures, our accumulation of facts, our interpretative structures.
We owe that rigor to our historical subjects. And we owe that rigor to the people of today (& future generations who might still be engaging w/ our work). It's okay to do less, as long as you do it well. It's not enough to know things. We need to know why they're important.
Wishing for that "edit" function on Twitter. *Should be: "which addresses an equally vital question."
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