Archive for August, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays — “The Historian As Detective — Essays on Evidence”

Posted in Rediscovered, Teaser Tuesday with tags , , on August 7, 2012 by JE Cornett

“Of course, pornography, scatalogical political pamphlets, and heretical religious tracts are not the only kinds of material that have a tendency to disappear from the public eye. ”

Now you know why I carefully archive all the little religious tracts I find.

That’s a tiny dose of one of my favorite books of all time, The Historian As DetectiveEssays on Evidence, edited by one Robin Winks.

It’s Teaser Tuesday, but it could just as easily be Treasure Tuesday. The Historian As Detective is so little known as to be the quintessential buried literary treasure. So little known, in fact, that neither Amazon or Goodreads has a synopsis for the book, although Google, in the trash-collecting way it has, does. Here’s what the almighty Google Books has to say about The Historian As Detective:

Essays by noted historians of the past and present, on the problems of investigation, offer a series of intriguing case studies in the relationship between historical research and detective fiction.

Yes, and no. The problems of investigation are indeed covered, as are intriguing case studies, but the detective fiction link is murky. What Winks does is illuminate the sometimes-shadowy way the history we’re given is constructed, how historians, much like detectives, sift through mountains of evidence — complete with red herrings, unreliable witnesses, liars and blackguards, just like in a police procedural — to arrive at an acceptable narrative that explains the past.

If it sounds dry and dusty, it’s not, although any copy of The Historian As Detective that you purchase is likely to be. The book has been out of print for decades, despite the fact that Winks, an historian himself (naturally), is a prolific author. It’s a book that’s ripe for rediscovery.

I came by my copy at a Goodwill, enticed by this glorious late 1960s/early 1970s cover:

I’ll readily admit that I did not expect to enjoy The Historian As Detective half as much as I did, but I found that I could not put it down. From essays about the Kennedy assassination to the problem of forged documents, it’s a fascinating read, and worth looking up.

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just open your current read to a random page and share a few sentences. Be careful not to include spoilers!