Crosby on prior historians

This is a nice passage by Alfred Crosby about the work of nineteenth and early twentieth century historians:

Rather than make a display of our "superiority" over scholars now dead and buried (thus anticipating the smugness or our own successors), let us praise our forebears. They were skilled practitioners of the historian's craft who did their work well, enabling the present generation of historians to make progress, rather than mere corrections. Men like Spain's Martín Fern´ndez de Navarette and Canada's Henri-Raymond Casgrain drew together the documentary evidence that forms the core of what even revisionists must begin with, and assembled the bare date of who was who and where and when. These scholars performed the laborious work that is preliminary to creative scholarship in any field of history. Among them were creative scholars of the first rank who built a model of the past that reconciled the record as they knew it with the values of their own day and made sense to the literate classes of their time. This is what society pays historians to do (Crosby 1994:5).

That seems like such a gentlemanly way to describe those whose shoulders you stand on; even when your task is to lay bare the assumptions that misled them so greatly.


Crosby AW. 1994. Germs, Seeds and Animals: Studies in Ecological History. M. E. Sharpe, Armonk, NY.