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LiadanWillows
28 Nov 2010, 18:23
Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?
Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?
Good sites/books/authors you recommend?

(sorry this is such a broad subject, but I know it would help me and all the other n00bs too!)

thalassa
28 Nov 2010, 18:50
Being some what of a n00b and doing a lot of research I thought I would bring up the topic of sources.

How do you know you have a good source of information or a bad one?

Well, there are a couple things...and a lot of them are fairly similar to the same way you would tell a good source from a bad source if you were writing a paper or something. All of them have their pros and cons...

1) Experience...really, nothing beats this. If you are well and widely read, you have a wider well of knowledge to draw upon. The downside, of course, is that to *get* that knowledge and experience, you are still going to have to read some "crap" and sometimes you will make mistakes and get suckered in to an idea that isn't so great. BUT...generally, thats be best way to learn.

2) Check out reviews. Reviews are not foolproof...but they can (particularly if they are well written) give you some idea as to the general reception of a work, as well as the specific strengths and weaknesses of a work or an author. Unfortunately, at the end of the day, reviews are just someone else's opinion...and there is a saying about opinions being like a**holes, "everybody has one, and most of the time they stink".

3.) Consider the source...and the subject itself. If you are reading a history of the development of Wicca, I'd dare say that a referenced, peer-reviewed work by a historian is probably the way to go (Ronald Hutton's Triumph of the Moon FTW!)...whereas, you might be more lenient in whom read for something that is more UPG oriented... Also, just because someone is a controversial figure (tries very hard to not point fingers) does not mean that they can't have good ideas (oh, I give up...some of my best "mommy magic" ideas for teaching my kids have come indirectly from Silver Ravenwolf)




Some signs that will point me to the validity of the information?

this article has some of the better advice I've seen on the subject (http://www.ecauldron.net/opedbooks.php)

...there used to be another article that I would recommend, that I thought was better...but I can't find it anymore :(

ETA: This is another good article on the subject (http://www.tangledmoon.org/critthink.htm), but its still not my fave one :(



Good sites/books/authors you recommend?


Really...that depends on your specific interests. I have tons of sites, authors and books I would recommend, but not without qualifying which topics I would recommend them for. There really is no Encyclopedia of Paganism that I can point you to as the end all, be all reference work.

Once the semester is over, provided I remember, I will go thru my stuff and find the darn file that was my big giant list of credible websites and books (seriously, its like 4 or 5 pages as a word document on just about ever topic I have ever been halfway interested in).


ETA: I really like this recommended reading lis (http://www.silver-branch.org/ssbbiblio/ssbbiblio.html)t as a starting point. About a fourth of my reading list overlaps with it, if I remember correctly.

Also...the book of books... (http://www.amazon.com/Paganism-Reader-Chas-Clifton/dp/0415303532) (wait for the used copies to be cheap...I got my (now stolen) copy for like $3.00)

Ophidia
28 Nov 2010, 19:12
You have to think about what audience you're in.

Are you looking for highly regarded academic resources so you can one-up people in forum debates, or are you looking for something that sings to your heart? Do you want to learn or do you want to teach? Are you a beginner or are you fairly experienced?

Unlike many scientific subjects, religion is more... subjective. Your desires and goals are going to largely color how you view what you read, hear or experience, and what you get out of a resource may not be what someone else would get out of a resource. Fer instance, I love Ralph Bloom's works on the Norse runes. Ask most other people and they'll tell you his books are crap - and, academically speaking, they are. But I'm not in it for accuracy, I'm in it because it speaks to me.

With anything else, you have to rely on your internal b.s. meter, too. If someone tells you to go stand on your head in a rainstorm & kiss a frog to find your totem animal, would you do it? If you read in a book to go pick unspecified mushrooms in the dark of the new moon to slip into your intended lover's food, would you trust much else the author had to say?

DanieMarie
29 Nov 2010, 06:34
Also, to add, is it current?

This seems like a no-brainer, but the net has been around long enough that there are articles around from like 2000. While that was only 10 years ago, some things (like business, technology, the economy, science) change much faster than that. So something from 2000 might be crazy outdated. I have a Human Resources Management textbook from 1995 and I'm sometimes really annoyed that that's the one we were prescribed, because in that context 1995 might as well have been 50 years ago and soooooo much has changed since then.

Ravenix
29 Nov 2010, 06:40
At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.

Failing that, any site that is well-written (i.e. nt ritten lyk thiss), has a nice layout and doesn't just lift stuff from Wikipedia should be fine. If you can tell that the owner has invested a lot of time and effort into it, it should be OK.
Even Wikipedia is very good, I have a few pages on Germanic religion bookmarked; just remember anyone can edit Wikipedia and that from that you can be misinformed.

Also check out the reviews for books you're intersted in on Amazon; you'll soon see if it's worth reading. And take a look at the other books that Amazon suggests for you, I found a few interesting books that way!

DanieMarie
29 Nov 2010, 07:08
At uni we can only cite material that is peer-reviewed, meaning that it has been approved by academics; any university or academic site should be good (look for '.ac' or '.edu' in the site address). There should be some academic sites floating around on ancient cultures and such if you're wanting info on a specific people. You can even find archaeological info on gods and such.



That kind of bugs me about uni to be honest. It's not usually like this in business studies, but there's still a strong bias towards academic rather than practitioner content, and to be honest I find that in business, the academic world is a little "behind" the times compared to what's actually going on in real time, so practitioner journals are useful. It's also a bit of an "american" vs "british" uni thing for that in business school. I go to a UK school and they're a bit more into the whole "tradition" of academia. Whereas US business schools (despite the fact that business school existed in the US LONG before it did in the UK) they're more interested in studying a mix of material and learning about how things work in studies combined with how people actually practice business in the real world. Some of my UK courses (like Marketing) are also better for this.

When it comes to studying religion I'd have trouble with sticking with only academic sources as well. It's such a subjective subject matter that eyewitness accounts and stuff like that can really help understanding (just make sure the source is reliable!)

Tylluan Penry
16 Dec 2010, 06:45
First off, apologies for the length of this post. On the old forum I would have posted it as an article. So if the mods feel it is in the wrong place, please do feel free to move it!

Using Sources
Since many of us like to use literary sources from time to time, I thought this would be a good place to explain a little about how to get the most out of them. If all we do is to pore over a text without thinking about how, why and when it was written, then we’re often only getting a small part of the whole picture.
One of the problem we have with each resources is in deciding their value. It's rather like newspapers, some of them have their own hidden agenda. Obviously I can't go through every type of source here on the forum, however I can set out a few pointers which you might find helpful.

Primary sources are usually ancient ones or at least as close to the original event described as it can possibly get. Sometimes ancient sources drew on even earlier ones that are now lost to us. A good example of this is found in the new Testament with the Gospel of St Luke and the Gospel of St Matthew, which are believed to rely heavily upon an earlier 'Q' source.

One mistake that people often make is to think that just because the source is old or ancient but it must be accurate. This is not so. Early writers often had their own agenda and if you know what this was it can often help you interpret the text. For example, Tacitus is often quoted in relation to the Germanic tribes and what they believed, and also about Boudicca in British history and the Celts.

Now firstly what you have to remember about Tacitus is that he wrote in Latin. So most people are going to read him in a translation. That means that his words have already been filtered through a third party so in addition to his own agenda, we might also be dealing with the translator's agenda. It shouldn't happen but occasionally it does.

The next thing to remember is most writers have an agenda of their own. Why did they write the book/article? What were they really trying to say? We return to Tacitus again because he's a very good example of this and a lot of people have heard of him. Tacitus lived during the reigns of the Roman emperors Domitian and Trajan. At heart he was a Republican, he didn't like the idea of having an emperor. Under Domitian, many of the elite had been executed; nobody was prepared to write criticising the emperor or the Empire during his reign. Once Domitian had been assassinated however, writers came out of the woodwork eager to say what a bad emperor he had been. Trajan obviously encouraged this.

So what you have to remember about Tacitus, is that when he's writing about the 'noble barbarians' in Germania, he is actually holding up their virtues as an example of what Republican virtues used to be before the time of Augustus, the first Emperor. Tacitus was not really interested in Boudicca or the Germans. And he certainly was not writing for them -- they were societies without any written traditions anyway. You could say that he was writing for a Republican Roman audience using a sort of code. He used the barbarians as he saw them, to say things that could not otherwise be expressed openly against the present Roman Empire.

Another thing about Tacitus. When you use a translation, try and use the most modern one you can find. This isn't always easy but you should at least be aware that some of the old translations are full of errors. You should also consider the purpose of the original text – was it literary, political or religious propaganda, historical? And remember that even with historical writing, the perception of its purpose has changed a lot since ancient time. We talk about Herodotus as the ‘Father of History’ (or the ‘Father of Lies’ depending on your point of view) – but actually his work would have been regarded as history by his original audiences. So would Thucydides.

Was the work intended to be read or performed? This is important because it will affect the dramatic qualities and also the intended effect of the work. It’s always worth considering anyway.

The idea of using modern texts is also applies to secondary sources. Even if you find an article or book that you like, you should always try and find another published in the last 15 to 20 years. This will give you a broader perspective.

Another thing to remember about sources is that they are just that -- a source to be used and interpreted. Interpretation is the key. With enough background information and a good primary source, you can use these to support your theories. Historians do this all the time. And fashions in historical interpretation are subject to change. You only have to see what happen to the reputation of somebody like Margaret Murray for example. Nowadays it is very unfashionable to use her arguments, and she is treated as though she knew nothing at all, however she was the bona fide scholar and had also accompanied Flinders Petrie on his archaeological digs. I'm quite sure that some of today's scholars will receive similar treatment from the scholars of the future.

Another thing you have to remember is the audience the source was intended for. Public sources -- intended to be read by people unknown to the author -- are quite different from private ones such as diaries and journals. A really private diary such as that written by Pepys who wrote in code, is quite different from a document that was intended to be read by others. You only have to look at the recent wikileaks revelations to realise that what is said and written in private is quite different from things intended to be distributed within the public domain.

Never be afraid to the open about your sources. If something is worth quoting, then at the very least you need to be able to state where you found them. 'The back of the drawer' does not count. If these papers were archived in say, the local records office, then these all have specific references which you should note down at the time you view them. Otherwise the source is going to be completely useless to you because you cannot share it with anybody else. A source that is hidden -- no matter how good you think it is -- is no source at all.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with stating that you believe something based entirely upon your own personal experiences. Other people may dispute with you of course, but you are perfectly entitled to hold the beliefs that you do. There is no need to prove them to anybody else. What you must not do however is to pretend you have sources that you don’t. Don’t try and give things the appearance of authority by claiming a provenance for them which they do not really possess.

Anyway, I hope this helps!

B. de Corbin
16 Dec 2010, 07:59
Excellent article, Tylluan! I wish I had students with your perception when I was teaching college prep writing :) .

In addition to all you've mentioned, it's also important to note, when using sources, that each author selected some materail to look at, and rejected other material - for one reason or another.

Sometimes there might be an agenda behind it, other times it's simply a matter of writing a 300 page book instead of a 10,000 page book. And still other times, it's simply a matter of what information is most easily accessible. For example, if you want to learn about ancient Celts, you have archaeological evidence, some artifacts, a few inscriptions, more myths and legends, but the Celts didn't write diaries, so we'll never know what any individual Celt felt about the world in which he/she lived.

The problems of selective evidence is as true of contemporary writing as it is of historical writing.

An excellent example of the importance of using the most current sources possible is the "history" of the Soviet Union. While the Soviet Union was still Communist, they were very careful to control the information about internal conditions and events they released. However, after it dissolved, the government archives were opened to western scholars, and everything we (in the U.S., at least) thought we knew about Soviet history had to be dramatically revised.

Tylluan Penry
16 Dec 2010, 08:43
Thank you de Corbin! The extra points you raise are excellent - I wish I'd thought of them! :)

I feel it's very important to try to evaluate the actual value of sources before using them - not all are the same, by any means. In history, ordinary people so often lived and died without leaving any trace of what they thought, believed or felt. And just as it's important to understand a source's strength, so it's important to understand its inherent weakness, too.


Simply saying 'I have a source' isn't enough by any means! ;)

Asch
27 Jan 2011, 15:59
This was such a great read! I read a similar article once regarding online sources for an anthropology course a few years ago. I wish I could find it now. So many well intentioned folks are suckered in by bad research, it's really refreshing to see something like this (I was delighted to see the academic section on this forum as well). Thank you for taking the time to write this up. :D

Caelia
27 Jan 2011, 18:27
Thank you for starting this topic. I wanted to add, though, some schools of academia now suggest nothing later than 10 years for an article. However I have seen exceptions made (like with my Shakespeare paper that hurts for even the erudites to think about), but it really depends on the subject.

magusphredde
27 Jan 2011, 20:35
I like Shakespeare ... I like reading it in the Olde English ... Get more of a feel for what the author is writing about ...

Tylluan Penry
28 Jan 2011, 00:11
Thank you for starting this topic. I wanted to add, though, some schools of academia now suggest nothing later than 10 years for an article. However I have seen exceptions made (like with my Shakespeare paper that hurts for even the erudites to think about), but it really depends on the subject.


Good point, Caelia - some disciplines do require more recent research, while others will tolerate older stuff simply because there has been little new research. But whenever possible, it's a good idea to use at least some up-to-date articles.



I like Shakespeare ... I like reading it in the Olde English ... Get more of a feel for what the author is writing about ...


When I was in school our teachers really dislike 'original' Shakespeare and tried to make us use the Bowdlerised or 'cleaned up' version. 'Methinks he smells of horse piss' didn't go down too well in the class-room.

Actually, Shakespeare didn't really write in Old English, but Chaucer certainly did. I remember seeing a lovely edition of Chaucer that has one page in the original and the other with a more modern version for comparison.

B. de Corbin
28 Jan 2011, 03:05
When I was in school our teachers really dislike 'original' Shakespeare and tried to make us use the Bowdlerised or 'cleaned up' version. 'Methinks he smells of horse piss' didn't go down too well in the class-room.

My favorite example of Thomas Bowdler's work in cleaning up Shakespeare comes from Hamlet. Two characters are talking about poor Ophelia, and one says "She plays the strumpet in bed." Bowdler changed the nasty word "strumpet" to the innocuous word "trumpet," making Ophelia seem far crazier than she actually was ;D .

The English teacher's joke about filthy Shakespeare is that the students always miss the really dirty stuff, and laugh at the stuff that isn't actually dirty. When we used to read Romeo and Juliet, the whole beginning dialogue dealing with "cutting of maidenheads" goes past the kids, but they laugh when Lord Capulet says "Bring me my sword, ho!" ...no, he's not calling his wife a whore...

I was just reading about some Roman emperors - in the section on Nero, the author indicates that much of what we think we know about the terrible Nero is based on some pretty slanderous work by four authors who opposed him - there is some serious revision going on about what kind of guy he actually was.

It's kind of like basing an appraisal of President Bush' time in office on Michael Moore's film Fahrenheit 911, despite the fact that Michael Moore has been so thoroughly discredited that nobody takes him seriously any more.

Tylluan Penry
28 Jan 2011, 04:23
All very true, de Corbin! One of the most telling things about Nero is the throwaway comment (off the top of my head not certain where it comes from - could be Suetonius???) that for many years after his death people always brought flowers to his grave. I found that rather touching.

As for Ophelia playing the trumpet in bed..... Bowdler has a lot to answer for! ;)

B. de Corbin
28 Jan 2011, 05:10
All very true, de Corbin! One of the most telling things about Nero is the throwaway comment (off the top of my head not certain where it comes from - could be Suetonius???) that for many years after his death people always brought flowers to his grave. I found that rather touching.

Yes - it seems he was loved by the people, but hated by his opponents in the senate, which suggests that he may have been the subject of bad propaganda.

However, since wealthy and powerful Romans made a particular point of gaining popular support by financing huge public entertainments and engaging in massive public building projects, it's also possible for a very bad ruler to be very popular.

The whole thing gets so muddy that it all has to be looked at very carefully before any conclusions are drawn, and then those conclusions have to be reevaluated as new information comes in - which is the whole point of your thread, a point which always needs to be emphasised.

Good scholarship isn't a sport for sissies or slouches ;) . It's hard work.

Tylluan Penry
28 Jan 2011, 05:22
The whole thing gets so muddy that it all has to be looked at very carefully before any conclusions are drawn, and then those conclusions have to be reevaluated as new information comes in - which is the whole point of your thread, a point which always needs to be emphasised.

Good scholarship isn't a sport for sissies or slouches ;) . It's hard work.



You're absolutely right - it IS hard work. And there is very rarely a 'Correct' answer, just a theory that seems feasible in the light of the evidence - which is changing all the time.

Once we accept that, I think we get more satisfaction from our reading and research. :)

magusphredde
28 Jan 2011, 18:14
You're absolutely right - it IS hard work. And there is very rarely a 'Correct' answer, just a theory that seems feasible in the light of the evidence - which is changing all the time.

Once we accept that, I think we get more satisfaction from our reading and research. :)
Quite true in quite a few aspects of life ... All of life methinks ... You see so many people getting so bent out of shape if someone says that their source is bad or wrong with only minimal exposure to that source and/or other sources ... Such can even be seen (on rare occasions :o) here ...

Shahaku
02 Feb 2011, 10:32
One thing I can add as a current college student, at least here in the US is how strict some teacher are getting about what counts as a reliable source. For instance, in a paper that requires 4 sources, on average only one can be online. All of our sources are supposed to come for scholarly works, like journals or books/papers/websites from reliable authors. This means that we have to look into each source deeply before even deciding if it's usable. We need to have an idea or the journal's, editor's, and author's reputation and reliablitly before we even really look into the source information itself. At least, that's been my experience in classes with writing assignments. I usually spend as much time finding scholarly and reliable sources as I do reading the sources and garnering the information from them that I need. Of course, since I started looking more deeply into my sources, my grades have gone up as well.

Gwen
02 Feb 2011, 13:20
Great thread!

I'd like to add a word about using secondary sources. They're good for a number of reasons: giving historical/social/religious context to primary sources; exploring and commenting on the biases and motivations of primary sources (Tylluan, for example, just wrote us some nice secondary-source material on Tacitus); drawing connections among primary sources and discussing their interpretation with other secondary-source authors; etc. I'll have to expand this list later, but in brief it's important to

-consider the author's agenda. This is always the case! Why is je writing?
-consider the author's context--historical, social, political, geographical.
-consider the author's academic context. What intellectual movements is je part of, and what theoretical structures and lenses does je base jer work within? A postcolonial writer is going to interpret something very differently than one who uses Jung as jer primary frame of reference.

Tylluan Penry
03 Feb 2011, 00:12
One thing I can add as a current college student, at least here in the US is how strict some teacher are getting about what counts as a reliable source. For instance, in a paper that requires 4 sources, on average only one can be online. All of our sources are supposed to come for scholarly works, like journals or books/papers/websites from reliable authors. This means that we have to look into each source deeply before even deciding if it's usable. We need to have an idea or the journal's, editor's, and author's reputation and reliablitly before we even really look into the source information itself. At least, that's been my experience in classes with writing assignments. I usually spend as much time finding scholarly and reliable sources as I do reading the sources and garnering the information from them that I need. Of course, since I started looking more deeply into my sources, my grades have gone up as well.

You're absolutely right - not all sources are of equal value. This was something we were discussing over on the Heathen boards just before the new forum came in. Generally speaking, internet sources that are part of the open access of Universities tend to be acceptable, and it can be a good way of finding ancient texts online in good translations.


There are sources and sources - once you learn to distinguish between them, you can spot hidden agendas and bias a mile off (well, much of the time ;))

---------- Post added at 08:12 AM ---------- Previous post was at 08:07 AM ----------

To the Mods In advance - I apologise for double posting. If anyone knows how to avoid this please tell me!


Great thread!

I'd like to add a word about using secondary sources. They're good for a number of reasons: giving historical/social/religious context to primary sources; exploring and commenting on the biases and motivations of primary sources (Tylluan, for example, just wrote us some nice secondary-source material on Tacitus); drawing connections among primary sources and discussing their interpretation with other secondary-source authors; etc. I'll have to expand this list later, but in brief it's important to

-consider the author's agenda. This is always the case! Why is je writing?
-consider the author's context--historical, social, political, geographical.
-consider the author's academic context. What intellectual movements is je part of, and what theoretical structures and lenses does je base jer work within? A postcolonial writer is going to interpret something very differently than one who uses Jung as jer primary frame of reference.

Hi Gwen - your list above is very helpful especially with its references to postcolonialism. For those who haven't come across this before, this is most commonly encountered when a modern writer discusses ancient empires but does so from the point of view of modern empires. So a British writer might writer about the Romans in Britain, saying what a wonderful civilising influence they were ;) when in fact what he is really saying is that the British Empire was a wonderful civilising influence in the 19th century. You get it a lot in older sources and this is one reason why tutors encourage students to pick more recent ones.

Of course, these attitudes are being challenged more and more, but it's still important to realise they exist within scholarship. There is a tendency to feel that mere mortals cannot challenge academics. Bunkum. We're as entitled to form our own opinions as anyone else, and the better we understand sources and how to use them, the more challenging our opinions will become.

Gwen
03 Feb 2011, 03:37
Thanks, Tylluan! I tend to find something of value in most secondary sources that do sufficient primary research, even if the author worked within a framework that is now discredited (or simply out of fashion in academia--because yes, different lenses do rise and fall in popularity and not always as much based in reason as we'd like to believe). If I can identify the framework(s) in use I know what to filter out, what to question closely, and what is likely to be considered valid information today. A few examples of persistent ideas and frameworks, and what I watch out for if I notice them in use:

-Social evolution theories of the Enlightenment era (1600s-1800s or thereabouts) are some of the most pervasive and most personally obnoxious ideas around. The basic idea is that in ancient times you have primitive peoples doing magic. As social orders begin to develop they begin to relate to spirits in a systematic way that becomes a codified polytheistic cult with a priesthood. Then at some point of further growth (especially the growth of rationality) monotheism develops. Depending on the scholar, the pinnacle of humanity and society is reached with the valorization of reason, science, and the mind, and either
a) Christianity, or
b) atheism.

Forms of these ideas are really common in sources as late as the 1960s, and are linked with colonial doctrines. I see them lingering today in Western discomfort with polytheism and the carnal/bodily, as well as tendencies toward racism, sexism, exploitation of the earth. They were so pervasive in their day that they had children that tend to travel together, though they also appear on their own:

---the Noble Savage. Some colonial thinkers reacted against the idea that primitive man was the opposite of what modern man should be striving for. Instead they romanticized, well, anyone who they thought was more primitive than they. Colonized cultures became a mirror for the nobility, closeness to nature, and innocent goodness that colonizers felt their own cultures had lost. In its own way this idea is as demeaning and devaluing of the stereotyped people as the idea that primitive = bad. However, this one is more politically correct today, and still shows up all over the place. (I'm thinking about the recent American movie Avatar, which is pretty much based on the idea of the Noble Savage.)

---the Cartesian (as in Descartes) mind/body split can be explained by two equations:
1. Mind = spirit = sky = white/European = male = rational = good (=Christian or atheist, depending)
2. body = temptation = earth = dark = female = irrational/unpredictable = bad (= non-Christian)
Sound familiar? I'm at a really progressive seminary in Berkeley and I still run into subtle iterations of this one from my classmates. The idea that God is separate from (implicit: above) the world is quite related to Cartesian dualism, as is the idea that sex is bad.

-Great Goddess Theory goes something like this: in ancient times there was a golden age of matriarchy and Goddess-focused religion in which everyone was equal, sexuality and the earth were valued, and peace reigned. It all ended when men took over with their patriarchal monotheism, warlike tendencies, and our dear friend from above, the Cartesian mind/body dualism. If you've done much reading into our religious history you'll recognize this one, as it was quite popular in feminist scholarship in the 1970s-80s and today remains an integral part of the stories many of our elders tell about our own history. Trouble is, it's appealing but historically dubious. Everyone likes a good Golden Age onto which we can project all that we wish we had more of now. For the colonial Brits, it was the rule of ancient Greece and Rome. For modern feminism, it's our peaceful matriarchal past. Look out for idealization; it says at least as much about the writer as about the subject under discussion.

aaand time's gotten away from me. If this kind of overview of intellectual frameworks common in secondary literature is useful lemme know and I can do some more this weekend!

Tylluan Penry
03 Feb 2011, 04:53
It's extremelyl useful Gwen - thank you so much for posting it. Authorial bias is always a bit of a minefield, but whatever anyone chooses to believe it's helpful if they at least recognise some of the pitfalls that lay in wait for the unwary! Fashions change so much within scholarship - what is considered out on the fringe one decade may be mainstream scholarship during the next.

thalassa
03 Feb 2011, 06:33
Just a couple FYI's...I merged this thread, and another thread that is similarly on evaluating source materials so if you are having trouble with the *flow* of the thread, check the title of the post!

Also, Tylluan, you are in luck--the software here auto-merges your posts for you! If you post in the same thread within 120 min or something like that, it will merge...more than that, and don't worry about it!


And, on topic....

Something to keep in mind along the lines of bias, in terms of primary literature and interpreting what people are really doing and saying means that you need to understand the context in which an event took place or a person lived. I spend alot of time reading 19th century material, particularly in the fields of natural history, but diaries, magazines from the time, deportment manuals, etc--even cookbooks and children's school books...when you read (no matter what you are reading) you have to factor in not only the difference in time period, but regional differences, the type of source, and their specific world view, etc... Its very easy to read that someone did X or thought Y or whatever and not understand its relevance because we lack the conditioning of having lived in that time--its also very easy to impart a meaning or importance to something that it would not have had, for that same reason.

For example...in science today, the emphasis is on experimentation as a means to support theories which give us insight and predictability into how things work. 150-200 years ago, suggesting a theory would ruin one's reputation and standing. At that time (and part of the reason for the popularity of natural history) "science" was the collection of "facts"...which was pretty much something anyone could do, regardless of class, education, gender, etc. Most people today think of Darwin only in terms of evolution---but Darwin wasn't the only one to come up with the idea (even his specific idea of natural selection--not only did he share the "discovery" with the lesser known Wallace, but actually, their idea was preempted in a treatise on logging, published decades earlier, though virtually unknown and unread...and that is without including ideas suck as Lamarckian evolution). Really though, the greater significance of Darwin wasn't that he developed a theory of evolution, but that he backed that theory up with a huge body of evidence, and the purpose it gave to biology (leading to the death of natural history) as a whole.

shadow1982
03 Feb 2011, 08:43
Great thread, would have been very useful when studying for my History Degree. A couple of things to bear in mind when reading books written by historians, although I may be repeating what has already been said;

What a historian is doing is putting forward his or her interpretation, based on scrupulous research in the sources. It is only a contribution to knowledge and will be subject to evaluation and criticisms by other historians. In order to know your history, it is important to also know your historian as they will all, to a greater or lesser degree, be taking up personal positions. Search engines are great for this, I will often google an author to get an idea of who they are and other writer/historians views on them.

Also, try to read as many different things about one subject as you can get your hands on. This will help you form an idea of where many different writers agree and where someone may be way of the mark as far as others are concerned.

Shahaku
03 Feb 2011, 17:17
Currently taking Intro to Islam and writing a paper on zakat. The main source I've found is over 50 years old. It's a first addition of the book. I'm almost afraid to touch it. And it's one of the few sources I've been able to get my hands on so I have to use it. At least my instructor okayed it. I'm not allowed to use any online sources.

Tylluan Penry
04 Feb 2011, 01:00
@Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ;)) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!

thalassa
04 Feb 2011, 05:22
@Thalassa- and it wasn't just the death of natural history,. but also the beginning of the end for regarding theology as a science. I seem to remember that Darwin actually studied theology at University. Wallace (born in Wales - had to get that in somewhere! ;)) tried to meld together his belief in Spiritualism with his scientific interests which put something of a strain on both!

(Thankfully) the natural theology aspect of natural history did take quite a drubbing with the publication of the Origin of Species...not as much from Darwin himself, but those such as T. H. Huxley (who had the nickname "Darwin's Bulldog), Asa Gray (an American botanist...I'm a big fan of Mr. Gray, when I reenact, his text is my essential tome of botanical wisdom;)) and his other supporters...Huxley himself is attributed with the creation of the term agnosticism (I've seen it referenced in a few texts, but I've never looked into it beyond that). But the attachment of religion to science...I honestly think it was moving in the direction of disconnection already, Darwin was just the big shove it needed to get over the top of the hill.

I will say this though...I've started reading up on the Spiritualist movement (because it was somewhat popular--as popular as any alternative among the upper/middle classes in the North during the latter half of the 1800's), particularly its connection to the early Feminist movement...and its really quite interesting...which in a round-about way can get me back on topic (I could seriously talk about natural history and early biology forever, I was born in the wrong century!).

Sometimes its hard to find sources. Seriously. Unless its a journal article, my university doesn't have it. Hell, they don't even have JSTOR anyhow. And after I graduate in May, I won't have access to their computer library system to find articles anyhow...and most people are probably somewhere where they don't have university access. When I was younger, I could go to the library at the uni where my mom was getting her masters degree (this was in the early days of the internet), look something up, and go find it in the stacks. Today, you have to have a password for their computer system to even look something up, and they probably don't carry it any longer, because it can be had online.

And books--I actually prefer secondary sources, since they've sort of done their work for me, and then I can (try to) track down the primary sources for them...but its hard to know if its good or not when you can't flip thru it (sure Google books can help there), but a lot of what I read up on has not been the biggest area of research, much less book publication. Most books are university publications, and that can be expensive. For example, I recently paid $50.00 for an e-book (the hard copy would have ran me $70 either used or from the publisher directly), and no library in the state had a copy, so I couldn't get it on loan...it was extremely useful, but was it really *worth* $50?

Tylluan Penry
04 Feb 2011, 06:11
Academic books can be horribly expensive - and as you say, it's not always easy to get hold of good sources. I hadn't realised that some Universities didn't offer JSTOR - that must be awful. Depending on what you're after, there are a lot of good ancient sources available free online though. If it's anything specific, Thal, do let me know and I'll try and help.

Gwen
04 Feb 2011, 10:21
My seminary library doesn't have JSTOR, much to my dismay. I bum articles from my sis sometimes as she's at a university that does.

Another note on secondaries: glance over the footnotes/endnotes. Sometimes these are simply lists of sources, which lets you know and evaluate what the author was reading and basing jer opinions on. However, often they contain additional information that the author didn't think was important or relevant enough to put in the body of jer text. Often they also contain arguments with other scholars on the topic, which (besides occasionally being snarky and amusing) tells you a lot about other perspectives and how your author is situation jerself within the wider field.

Tylluan Penry
04 Feb 2011, 15:53
It's often worth checking out the sources cited in secondary sources. You would be surprised how often they are wrong! I've even seen an 'academic' source with Harvard style footnotes but no full bibliography, which means that you can't even see what work is being referred to!

cesara
04 Feb 2011, 16:12
Great thread, guys....just wanted to say that...lol.

B. de Corbin
08 Feb 2011, 04:51
If you are reading anything which makes use of statistical information, you really, really need to have some knowledge of statistics so that you will know what statistics can and can not tell you, what kind of information is legitimately conveyed through statistics, and how that information is conveyed by the statistics.

I've seen "research" composed largely of inferences drawn from statistics in which correlation and cause were treated as the same thing, sweeping conclusions were drawn from statistically insignificant data, and conclusions were presented which were directly contradicted by the statistical evidence which had been given.

This kind of propaganda is easy to do because most people either don't understand statistics, or do not actually review the statistics presented (because the "conclusion" presented by the author[s] "sums it all up" for the reader without using numbers).



Also, it's absolutely necessary that one understands the difference between "rhetoric" (the art of speaking or writing effectively) and "logic" (the art of accurate reasoning) - which is like the difference between poetry and algebra.

Ideally they are used together - rhetoric makes the reader want to believe the truth demonstrated through logic, but more often good rhetoric is used with bad logic, tricking the reader into believing what has not been demonstrated to be true. And logic used without rhetoric is generally ignored because it’s boring.

When I was teaching an advanced literary analysis class, this was something which even highly intelligent students had a big problem with - their definition of truth was what they had been led to believe (by an effective author), rather than carefully separating out the rhetorical gymnastics of the author and assessing the actual logic of the information presented. Try doing THAT the next time you have to listen to a political speech...

Tylluan Penry
09 Feb 2011, 01:36
De Corbin - thanks for that timely information about statistics. It's surprising how many people look at a chart of figures and just seem to switch off, whereas actually there are huge amounts of info to be extrapolated from them.

And yes, you're so right about rhetoric - people get taken in by it, and then those using the rhetoric get lazy and don't even bother to try any more! I always tell people to look out for the 'weasel words' that are a dead giveaway that the writer is trying to manipulate the readers. Mind you, all writers do that to some extent, although some are downright unscrupulous about it!

Gwen
12 Feb 2011, 15:09
Time for another academic framework to look for!

Postmodernism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postmodernism), Postcolonialism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Postcolonialism), and Poststructuralism (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Poststructuralism#Theory) are closely related frameworks that have taken academia by storm in the second half of the 20th century. They arose in response to the fall of European colonialism and its sibling-theories about social evolution and the inherent and natural superiority of European culture. Some basic ideas:

-Colonial-era philosophy, theology, and natural science assumed a Descartes-style discrete self ("I think therefore I am") with that all-important faculty of reason. The post- movements break down that idea, insisting on the centrality of influences of race, class, culture, religion, gender, etc in building any given concept of self. The argument is that nothing--no person, no social movement, no work of art--can be read independent of its context. (Yes, this caution has been stated many times on this thread. This is where that sensibility comes from, folks.)

-Postcolonialism is particularly interested in the ways that identities of--and prejudices around--race, class, gender, embodiment, sexuality, religion, and ethnicity shape past and present discourse in all spheres of human life. Remember the Cartesian mind-body split I mentioned earlier? Much ink has been spilled identifying and challenging its role in past "knowledge." For example, a Postmodern reading of Shakespeare's Tempest is very interested in the island as colony, Miranda and Prospero's gendered roles, Caliban's "native" darkness and negative portrayal, and the role of Prospero's powerful books.

-Enlightenment and colonial eras focused on uncovering absolute and timeless "right answers" in all fields of human understanding. The post- schools deny the existence of One Truth in any field, focusing instead on relativity and subjectivity: everything looks different depending on who's looking, where they're standing, what sociocultural influences underpin the "they." Post- scholars mostly deny the existence of any absolute truths; those who argue for some form of absolute truth seriously limit its scope compared to scholars in previous intellectual movements.

The Post- schools have a serious case of jargon fever. I jokingly refer to Postmodernism as a separate language, and it can be hard to decipher at first glance. Buzzwords: gendered; "the Other"/Othering; "the subject"/subjectivity; narrative; paradigm; paradox; dialectic; discourse; patriarchy; capitalism; deconstruction. The Postmodernism Essay Generator (http://www.elsewhere.org/pomo/) generates random essays based on Postmodern language, and gives you a decent feel for postmodern writing (despite being itself meaningless).

A lot of Postmodern writing uses some of this jargon, but its influence is pervasive enough in recent scholarship that you will run into the ideas in pieces written in languages other than Postmodern. (^_^) When you spot some of the above-listed ideas, look for the others--and be aware that sometimes writers focus on deconstructing the apparent meaning of their topic to the exclusion of other ways to look at it. I personally find their critiques quite valuable usually, but over the top sometimes. (For example, when I talk about the dark half of the year being a time of turning inward, contemplating, resting, and preparing, I'm not talking about skin color, but rather how long days are relative to nights. However, I have been told by a friend to be careful how I use language of light and dark because some others at our seminary will read race into it no matter how I qualify it.)

lorraine02
20 Nov 2012, 04:26
yes, your posts are all useful for us .