Veracity of History

#1
Probably a little bit off topic. But I'm starting from the beginning of the Aeon Byte Gnostic Radio Show and listening through.

It seems like many of the writers that are interviewed on the show are denigrated by academic historians.

For instance see this rebuttal of Acharya S's writing by Bart D. Ehrman:

In his book Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman discusses The Christ Conspiracy, which he calls "the breathless conspirator's dream". Ehrman says "all of Acharya's major points are in fact wrong" and her book "is filled with so many factual errors and outlandish assertions that it is hard to believe the author is serious." Taking her as representative of some other writers about the Christ myth theory, he generalizes that "Mythicists of this ilk should not be surprised that their views are not taken seriously by real scholars, mentioned by experts in the field, or even read by them."
So my question is, what do we do with history? Are academic historians the "one true voice" of history? Do they always have it right?

I'm not speaking specifically of Acharya S. Another great instance is Will and Ariel Durant with their massive Story of Civilization.

If we read history that is not written by PhD's in that particular niche are we simply reading fiction?

What to do?
 
#2
I'm not familiar with any of these books, but in general, I don't think we can generalise.

In this case, I think you have to start by looking at what Ehrman's critiques are, and take it from there. Ehrman's review is in a book I also don't have, but I found a blog that quotes more extensively from it: http://benstanhope.blogspot.com/2013/03/bart-ehrman-spanks-acharya-s-christ.html. The blogger lists about a dozen specific points that Ehrman brings up. You could track them each down, and evaluate if Ehrman is being fair in his critique.

But I think your question is getting at a more general kind of approach - as lay people, with other priorities, it is not usually practical to track down every fact in a book (not unless one wants to spend the next year on that book!). The blogger quotes a particularly useful line from Ehrman that I think probably serves as a better general barometer in terms of assessing whether an author is worth one's time (from the point of view of considering it to be a serious work that one can at least put some degree of confidence in: Ehrman writes: "Her “research” appears to have involved reading a number of non-scholarly books that say the same thing she is about to say and then quoting them."

There was another thread on scholarship recently where I had intended to make a similar point: in evaluating someone's writing - whether related to history, science, politics or whathaveyou, one of the most important things to look at is what sources does the author rely on. There's nothing wrong in principle with referring to other people's research, but if that is the main source behind the arguments, it will be particularly important to see how deeply the author went into verifying the claims of those other authors. Better, though, would be that the author refers to other authors as support, but primarily uses primary sources (at least in the type of work that seems to be presented here).

One doesn't need to have a Phd to do good research, but if one hasn't had the advantage of the education into research methodology that a PhD offers, they run the risk of using methods that are less sound. They should still explain their methodology and why they think it is sound (including recognizing weaknesses). And if they are trying to advance a hypothesis that contradicts other work - the should address the other work directly.

History is tricky: I think you always have to take even the best research with a good dose of salt. This isn't a criticism, historians are well aware of the limitations of their source material. It's a matter of doing the best that one can with the material available. This makes it that much harder for the layperson.
 
#3
So my question is, what do we do with history? Are academic historians the "one true voice" of history? Do they always have it right?
You might find the following treatment of interest:

History is not just what-really-happened-in-the-past, but a complex intersection of truths, bias and hopes. A glance at two very different historians, the Roman Tacitus and the Byzantine Procopius, shows the range and difficulty inherent in the study of the past. History encompasses at least three different ways of accessing the past: it can be remembered or recovered or even invented. All are imperfect in some way. For instance, no historian or historical source reveals the full and unvarnished truth, so memory is a fallible guide. Also, no evidence brought to light through archaeology or historical investigation is complete without context, and sometimes the significance of recovered data is hard to determine. Furthermore, many purported "histories" can be shown to have been invented; at the same time, however, these fabrications still tell us much about a society's beliefs and dreams. All in all, the best histories are the best stories.
http://www.usu.edu/markdamen/1320hist&Civ/chapters/01HIST.htm
 
#4
I'm not familiar with any of these books, but in general, I don't think we can generalise.

In this case, I think you have to start by looking at what Ehrman's critiques are, and take it from there. Ehrman's review is in a book I also don't have, but I found a blog that quotes more extensively from it: http://benstanhope.blogspot.com/2013/03/bart-ehrman-spanks-acharya-s-christ.html. The blogger lists about a dozen specific points that Ehrman brings up. You could track them each down, and evaluate if Ehrman is being fair in his critique.

But I think your question is getting at a more general kind of approach - as lay people, with other priorities, it is not usually practical to track down every fact in a book (not unless one wants to spend the next year on that book!). The blogger quotes a particularly useful line from Ehrman that I think probably serves as a better general barometer in terms of assessing whether an author is worth one's time (from the point of view of considering it to be a serious work that one can at least put some degree of confidence in: Ehrman writes: "Her “research” appears to have involved reading a number of non-scholarly books that say the same thing she is about to say and then quoting them."

There was another thread on scholarship recently where I had intended to make a similar point: in evaluating someone's writing - whether related to history, science, politics or whathaveyou, one of the most important things to look at is what sources does the author rely on. There's nothing wrong in principle with referring to other people's research, but if that is the main source behind the arguments, it will be particularly important to see how deeply the author went into verifying the claims of those other authors. Better, though, would be that the author refers to other authors as support, but primarily uses primary sources (at least in the type of work that seems to be presented here).

One doesn't need to have a Phd to do good research, but if one hasn't had the advantage of the education into research methodology that a PhD offers, they run the risk of using methods that are less sound. They should still explain their methodology and why they think it is sound (including recognizing weaknesses). And if they are trying to advance a hypothesis that contradicts other work - the should address the other work directly.

History is tricky: I think you always have to take even the best research with a good dose of salt. This isn't a criticism, historians are well aware of the limitations of their source material. It's a matter of doing the best that one can with the material available. This makes it that much harder for the layperson.
Thx.
 
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