I think one has to back ones own interpretation by foot notes or by citations, like one is stating rank and file is not aiming and hardly fired vollies in the Napoleonic wars, end of story. Then wouldn't it be better to throw in 10 remarks and oberservation of eye witnesses and discuss them?
Narrative History is fine, Antony Brett James - Life in Wellington's Army, which I bought due to a recommondation here, though not my interest, the lobsters, still a great read - and a lot of citations.
I agree with you. I think that there are two arguments here. The personal tastes in the use of footnotes and the purposes of footnotes.
I am going to say something here that may sound critical, but I mean it in the most constructive manner possible, and am not pointing my finger at anyone other than Mr. Bowden. The current list discussion of footnotes
strikes me sort of like two carpenters discussing hammers:
1st Carpenter: Well, it's supposed to drive in little metal thingees. I like the really big ones.
2nd Carpenter: Big ones are nice, but you don't need hammers all the time, and besides, some metal can't be driven into wood with one.
1st Carpenter: Well, maybe, but big hammers sure are fun to swing. I think hammers should be used to drive those little metal thingees.
They don't sound too competent. Competent carpenters would be matching the type of hammer to the nail and the work to be done. Competent carpenters would be spending their time talking about what they are building with the hammers.
Footnotes are just tools. They developed as a joining of two practices. The first was religious. When a priest or religious scholar made a statement on doctrine, he had to prove that it was actually biblical by quoting bible verses in support. The second was scientific. Darwin would never have been believed if he hadn't cited sources (physical and documents) and support for his conclusions. Footnotes are for building effective historiography and establishing the accuracy of some statement. The basic purposes are:
1. To present sources: All history is recorded. If I say Napoleon is 5'2", particularly if the common belief is 5'6", then I better let the reader know where I got the idea. Bowden is very good at giving supporting sources which, when reviewed, don't support his contention--if they exist.
So when making a new claim, a controversial claim or building an argument or conclusion based on evidence, footnotes allow the reader to determine WHERE you got the information.
2. To demonstrate an awareness of other sources: If I make a claim that Nappy was short, I will what to show why I do not accept the common believe, which obviously should be based on historical references too.
3. Providing additional evidenc: Footnotes are a short way of providing several supporting pieces of evidence on pivotal issues without clogging you the prose or wasting the time of readers that already accept the statement.
It is sort of like an experiment in science. When a scientist makes a claim for an experimental discovery, he is expected to provide enough information to other scientists so they can duplicate the experiment. In this case, footnotes allow the reader to duplicate the research of the author--if they want to. Obviously it also has to do with a willingness to put your claims before others in the discipline.
Honesty is not a given. It is something that professionals are expected to prove, it is a safeguard against bad history and it also provides the data to other historians for their work, so they don't have to re-invent the wheel and so they have a solid foundation to build from if they want to go further.
I see these basic tools being lost, misused, and often ignored in writing current history. Doctoral thesis have sometimes thousands of footnotes, but I find that those doctoral candidates are not at all clear WHY they are there other than the Doctoral committee wanted them.