I wanted to offer what I think is a wise voice from the past to comment on an aspect of what might constitute “good history.” It is a kind of forward, or an encompassing footnote about sources, methods, and objective. I can appreciate the frank admission about quotations, for surely there is an element of this with regard to all quotations of material not originally written. Refreshing honesty of method!
But, I think the most powerful statement of history’s job rises at the end. And I suspect that any historian (and not a few readers and consumers of history) would do well to sustain in memory echoes of the last sentence :o)
“On the whole, however, the conclusions I have drawn from the proofs quoted may, I believe, be safely relied on. Assuredly they will not be disturbed either by the lays of a poet displaying the exaggeration of his craft, or by the compositions of the chroniclers that are attractive at truth’s expense ; the subjects they treat of being out of the reach of evidence, and time having robbed most of them of historical value by enthroning them in the region of legend. Turning from these, we can rest satisfied with having proceeded upon the clearest data, and having arrived at conclusions as exact as can be expected in matters of such antiquity....
“With reference to the speeches in this history, some were delivered before the war began, others while it was going on ; some I heard myself, others I got from various quarters ; it was in all cases difficult to carry them word for word in one’s memory, so my habit has been to make the speakers say what was in my opinion demanded of them by the various occasions, of course adhering as closely as possible to the general sense of what they really said. And with reference to the narrative of events, far from permitting myself to derive it from the first source that came to hand, I did not even trust my own impressions, but it rests partly on what I saw myself, partly on what others saw for me, the accuracy of the report being always tried by the most severe and detailed tests possible. My conclusions have cost me some labour from want of coincidence between accounts of the same occurrences by different eye-witnesses, arising sometimes from imperfect memory, sometimes from undue partiality for one side of the other. The absence of romance in my history will, I fear, detract somewhat from its interest ; but if it be judged useful by those inquirers who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to the interpretation of the future, which in the course of human things must resemble if it does not reflect it, I shall be content. In fine, I have written my work, not as an essay which is to win the applause of the moment, but as a possession for all time.”
Cheers - Howie
P.S. Oh, the author? Thucydides.