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Author Topic:   How to become a Space Historian?
MrSpace86
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From: Gardner, KS, USA
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posted 06-16-2011 10:39 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have seen in several places now that some people are called "space historians". Is there a way to officially become one? I did a quick Google search and there doesn't seem to an exam or something that certifies you. I'd like to be a space historian! Any pointers?

xlsteve
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From: Holbrook MA, USA
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posted 06-17-2011 09:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'd like to hear perspectives on this as well. I am interested in military history as well as space, and there is a debate in that area on the 'professional' versus 'amateur' historian.

There have been many contributions by 'amateur' historians (Barbara Tuchman is a prominent example) despite the fact that they do not have the academic credentials in history, but nonetheless are self-taught. I would argue that anyone who studies history is a 'historian.'

Personally I read widely in the fields that I'm interested in and also some of the standard texts on historiography and the historical method as I'd like to do some writing on the subject. You can give yourself a pretty good education on primary sources and how to use and evaluate them without setting foot in a classroom.

Also, there are number of published authors on this forum who write about space history (and who are therefore 'space historians'), but whose academic background is not necessarily history per se, but I'll let them weigh in if they will.

That said, if you want to be a 'professional' historian (i.e. teach) you need the academic cred. Personally I haven't seen many history courses that focus on space, but others may have additional info. I would imagine that once you get to the Master's or PhD level you would choose that as your area of focus for your thesis or dissertation.

On edit: Also, Quest Magazine is a great source of space history writing.

mercsim
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From: Phoenix, AZ
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posted 06-17-2011 10:44 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for mercsim   Click Here to Email mercsim     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wikipedia says:
A historian is an individual who studies and writes about history, and is regarded as an authority on it.
I don't necessarily think you need a degree to be considered an historian. Practicing engineering or medicine without the credentials could hurts someone but I don't think too many people have been hurt because history was misquoted.

A degree in history may not be about the history itself but more about how to communicate it, research it, and make deductions about historical findings. Most historians, archeologists, etc. specialize in a particular field.

Every once in a while you will see someone titled "Space Historian" on one of the science channels. Some of them have degrees in other fields which could also give them the necessary skills to communicate, research, etc.

I have a degree in engineering and consider "Space History" as my hobby. I am not practiced enough to call myself "Historian" but other collectSPACE members with various degrees and backgrounds have the knowledge and practice to certainly fit that category.

It (Space Historian) is an interesting topic to discuss that doesn't come up too often.

kr4mula
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From: Cinci, OH
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posted 06-17-2011 11:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Are you sure the original question isn't tongue-in-cheek? Just curious. And you didn't hear about the secret certification exam that we all took?

I've been on both sides of this fence, so I'll throw in my two cents. Generally speaking:

As in other fields, a "professional" historian is one who writes/researches/studies history as his primary occupation. You may be employed by a university to teach, the government to research and write, or you may be an independent scholar who relies on writing and publishing articles and books for a living. You don't have to have a history degree to be a professional in this sense, but it sure does help to get the acknowledgement of your peers (and for the legitimacy of your work).

You're an amateur historian if you do these things without getting paid, or as just a supplement to your regular income.

Of course, there's a lot of gray area. for example, a person with a PhD in history who is employed outside the field would still be considered a historian (and an all-too-common one these days!).

In these respects, being a historian isn't much different than other fields. In my opinion, if you feel comfortable calling yourself a historian to another historian (or a group of them), then you're one of us.

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-17-2011 11:08 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
For what my thoughts are worth -- I've written articles for "Quest: The History of Spaceflight Quarterly" three times, on Apollo 12/Surveyor, the Lunar Rover, and on our own hobby.

Space history is happening around us. We're lucky in realizing how important it is and moreover in having access to the people who make it. I find that there's always some detail that got overlooked or taken for granted, some new angle to investigate, or someone who still hasn't gotten their chance to be heard. Thankfully the interest is higher than ever, so there's an audience not only for the stories of astronauts and scientists who achieved fame, but also for the contributors who gave greatly, such as Alan Glines, who just published a memoir of his years in MOCR, and Sara Howard, who was one of the few women who worked on the Saturn V. Those recollections are the tip of a huge iceberg--hundreds of thousands of people helped make history during these decades, and most of their accounts are in danger of being neglected.

Among us are accomplished historians like Andy Chaikin, Francis French, Colin Burgess and Jay Gallantine, and their irreplaceable work will be standard reading for future generations. NASA also worked mightily to record anything it could. However, the sheer magnitude and complexity of the first five decades of the space program means that the best efforts can capture just a small part of what happened in Washington, in Downey, in New Orleans or in Bethpage, let alone what occurred in Houston, KSC or on the moon. Interwoven with those threads are tales of the Cold War, politics and economics, science and business, even individual people and families. You might live down the street from someone who created astronaut meals, or someone who worked on heat shields. Imagine what they'd have to share about it.

The point is, we could use a hundred more Andy Chaikins and Francis Frenchs, because there are a million memories still waiting to be captured. My slim contributions so far have come from finding the people who hadn't recorded their stories and asking the questions that hadn't been asked--Ewen Whitaker's recollection of how he located Surveyor III on the lunar surface so Apollo 12 could use it as a target, and Ferenc Pavlics' personal story about escaping from Communist Hungary and 15 years later watching his Lunar Rover traverse the moon.

One of my best memories of our astronaut autograph gatherings was a story Guenther Wendt tole me. In Burbank, 2004 (thanks to Stave and Nolan, again), a man came in and walked by all the marquee names just to shake Guenther's hand. Seems this fellow's father had been a janitor at the Cape during the M-G-A days, and that Guenther had arranged a VIP tour of the launch pad for him and his crew. Guenther said, "Of course it was usually senators and generals who got those tours and I never game a damn about them, but I wanted those janitors to know that they were part of the team like the rest of us." The janitor's son came to Burbank just to say thank you for that. Guenther was as moved by that forty years after as I am sharing what he told me.

How many more stories like that are there, just waiting to be heard?

moorouge
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posted 06-17-2011 11:47 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Don't let's get too complicated over this. A 'historian' is ANY person who researches a topic from the past and then writes down his own interpretation of the results of that research. Being a 'professional' doesn't make one either right or correct. Most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event. I've no doubt that the space writers mentioned are worthy gentlemen and their books are important contributions to the history of space flight. But they are still only a personal view of what actually happened.

xlsteve
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From: Holbrook MA, USA
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posted 06-17-2011 12:11 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for xlsteve   Click Here to Email xlsteve     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by kr4mula:
Are you sure the original question isn't tongue-in-cheek?
I think it probably was, but since I've had this conversation outside of space history, I was interested in hearing responses. So far it's been pretty interesting.

teachspace
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From: river edge, nj usa
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posted 06-17-2011 12:32 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for teachspace   Click Here to Email teachspace     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I have very closely followed the space program since John Glenn's flight in 1962 when I was 9 years old. I have created a VERY extensive museum of space memorabilia over the past 49 years.

My plan of being a NASA flight controller got side tracked by serious eye issues so I'm a banker today.

I still collect, read and learn about space science and history.

When my sons were in very early elementary school, I started going into their school to give presentations/lessons on some aspect of the space program. At this point my sons — men — are in their 30's but I continue to teach. I go into individual schools, libraries, civic groups, etc, throughout New York and New Jersey teaching classes about space history, science and technology.

I'm on the staff of two Saturday school programs where I teach multiple week courses twice a year. I'm on the Board at the NJ Aviation Hall Of Fame and I'm there space consultant, giving regular programs/classes.

I have written and had published two books about the space program. "Vision For Space" - a history of the program, as well as the story of my eyes and how my collection was created and "The A B C's Of Space Exploration" - a tutorial in space science, history and technology for children 4th grade and higher.

I am absolutely a qualified space historian in my humble opinion.

I have no professional training. As a matter of fact, when the Gifted Child Society produces it's brochure for the Saturday sessions, I am the only teacher with no letters after my name. Yet, the space classes are the most popular and most attended.

I have become aware of an on-line school that offers a degree program in space science. It's called American Public University. I've checked it out and still toy with the idea of taking the classes. Considering my age and the cost involved, I doubt it's worth doing for me. It would only satisfy my ego in having letters after my name in the brochure. I doubt it would open any new doors for me at this point in my life. They do have a program that offers life credits and I was assured I would be awarded the maximum amount after writing ten portfolios of information but that still leaves an awful lot of school to go through. Just in case anyone is interested, here's the website.

At any rate, I really do think I am a full-fledged space historian.

Tykeanaut
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From: Worcestershire, England, UK.
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posted 06-17-2011 12:47 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tykeanaut   Click Here to Email Tykeanaut     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Well perhaps I'm conceited but I would regard myself a space historian. I've studied the subject for more than 40 years and written a number of articles. Luckily I was able to choose spaceflight as my history project while at school which was a real bonus and joy.

A degree specifically in the subject would be great though wouldn't it?

ilbasso
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From: Greensboro, NC USA
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posted 06-17-2011 01:12 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for ilbasso   Click Here to Email ilbasso     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
To paraphrase Mel Brooks in the "psychiatrists" sketch on one of the "2000 Year Old Man" albums - you put your hand on a rock and say, "I am a HISTORIAN!"

achaikin
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posted 06-17-2011 08:22 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for achaikin   Click Here to Email achaikin     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
But they are still only a personal view of what actually happened.
There is a difference between "a personal view of what actually happened," as you call it, and a well-researched and well-argued presentation of events.

When I started my research for "A Man on the Moon" in 1985 I had my share of preconceptions about what the astronauts thought and felt about their experiences. But I had to abandon many of those preconceptions as I found out what they *really* thought and felt (or at least what they were willing to share with me).

A good historian must always be prepared to change his or her mind in the face of new evidence. And, ideally, an experienced historian can add clarity and perspective that the events alone do not necessarily convey.

Having said all of that, my degree is in geology, not history -- so I have no doubt that anyone with sufficient insight, research skills, persistence, and communication ability can produce a meaningful historical work.

------------------
Andy Chaikin

MCroft04
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posted 06-17-2011 09:18 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MCroft04   Click Here to Email MCroft04     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Happy to welcome another geologist to the forum, as well as a Maine neighbor, and a guy who wrote that book. And I agree with your comments!

MrSpace86
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From: Gardner, KS, USA
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posted 06-17-2011 10:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for MrSpace86   Click Here to Email MrSpace86     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Wow, Andy Chaikin joined my topic...I feel honored. Welcome Andy Chaikin! I am a huge fan!!

But from what I can deduce from the discussion and from what others have stated, including Mr. Chaikin, is that to be a good space historian (or a historian for any subject) you have to unbiased and open to being wrong about what you may or may not have thought happened at any given time.

My degree is in Aerospace Engineering and have read dozens of books on spaceflight, did several of my undergraduate presentations about spaceflight and the engineering behind it, and have watched countless hours of TV shows and spoken to some astronauts about their experiences and thoughts.

Oddly enough, no one has really talked about the Russian/Soviet side of spaceflight. I guess to be a "complete" space historian, you would also need to know a rather large amount of knowledge about their space program. To be honest, I think it would be rather difficult to be a Russian Space Historian due to all the secrecy and controversy their program had during the 60s and early 70s.

Being a collector does not necessarily mean you are a historian too

DC Giants
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posted 06-18-2011 12:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for DC Giants   Click Here to Email DC Giants     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I agree with your comments as well Andy. Along with the poster above, (I have a geology degree as well) welcome!

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-18-2011 01:30 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
But they are still only a personal view of what actually happened.
Well... no.

Rigorous historiography requires far more than "only a personal view." The goal is to avoid the merely personal and to record the facts as determined by research from the best sources, preferably the primary ones, corroborated and documented explicitly. The personal views in autobiographies or work of that nature are separate from authentic history, and certainly anything that is "only a personal view" but which purports to be history is subject to serious criticism and rejection because it's likely to be useless.

Being a 'professional' doesn't make one either right or correct; however, acting like a professional means making the utmost effort to contribute work that is factual and unimpeachable.

It's not true, thankfully, that most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event. If they were, they'd be a waste of time.

moorouge
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posted 06-18-2011 01:56 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Oh dear! I do seem to have bruised a few egos. However, the responses do seem to prove my point. Anything one writes has to be personal. Of course a good historian presents the facts of the matter. But they still remain how the writer views those facts as he/she puts pen to paper.

As a case in point - how many historians have written books on the moon landing? Are they all the same? Similar - yes. The same - no.

On edit - to further prove my point. Look at the different personal interpretations in this thread based on the facts of what I originally wrote.

HistorianMom
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posted 06-18-2011 07:28 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for HistorianMom   Click Here to Email HistorianMom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Finally! A question *I* have some expertise on! I am so happy because I *know* this one. I am an academically-trained historian. I am also, I guess I am ready to admit, a space enthusiast....Anyway, if you read the "Standards of Professional Conduct" of the American Historical Association, which is available online, you'll see that professional historians -- those of us employed in the field, recognize that "all manner of people can and do produce history." Professional historians don't have a monopoly on the field...we all create history, simply by living through events, reflecting on them, and communicating about them to others.

I have enjoyed many, many pieces of space history written by those who are not academically-trained historians.

I have put together a couple of presentations for community groups based on what I have learned from reading works by people like Andy Chaikin and those who have been co-writers on astronaut biographies. My own professional interest is in women's history and religious history and my presentations have involved looking at the place of religion in American culture through the lens of the space program in the Cold War era. But I am not really an American historian. I doubt my colleagues would let me teach a course on the Space Race in the university although I might become qualified to do so in a few years.

In order to publish on the topic as a professional academic historian, I'd have to do a lot of primary source research. I'd have to learn Russian. I'd have to have a strong sense of context and be up on secondary literature about the cold war, U.S. history from the 40s through the 70s, etc.

So while I am both a professional historian and a space enthusiast, I have a long way to go befoore I'd feel comfortable calling myself a space historian.

And somebody said that nobody ever did anyone any harm practicing bad history -- that is not true. Wars have been started and people killed because people have become persuaded that a certain view of the past is a correct one, and they are willing to fight to defend it and further it. Beware of bad history!

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-19-2011 12:43 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Oh dear! I do seem to have bruised a few egos.
If it amuses you to feel you're "bruised a few egos" then by all means indulge yourself, but don't consider your "point" proven." If you're saying that two human beings inevitably take differing perspectives on the same set of facts, then you have a firm grasp of the obvious. That's not the same as seeking or permitting personal subjectivity in historiography.

The extreme of the latter is plastered all over the Web -- work by "historians" who insist on legitimacy in their arguments that the moon landings were faked, for one obvious example. It serves no one to call this nonsense "history" and it's a waste of time to suggest that it merits the same respect that a responsible approach to the facts.

Your case in point isn't a case in point -- "how many historians have written books on the moon landing? Are they all the same? Similar - yes. The same - no" is simply reducing the argument to absurdity.

If you feel that the differences among them are slight, and that they remain "similar" along the entire spectrum, then by all means, submit your article to Quest or one of the other journals, offering your sober comparison on historical merit between Andy Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon", French and Burgess's "In the Shadow of the Moon" and Thomas's "The Moon Landing Hoax: The Eagle That Never Landed", and let's see how your "point" that "Are they all the same? Similar - yes. The same - no" carries.

moorouge
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posted 06-19-2011 03:58 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dave Clow:
Your case in point isn't a case in point -- "how many historians have written books on the moon landing? Are they all the same? Similar - yes. The same - no" is simply reducing the argument to absurdity.

Thanks for proving the point I was trying to make. You have made an interpretation and taken a personal view of a simple fact made in the original post. You think it absurd. Others may consider it worthy of a little merit at the very least.

I repeat - for a given set of facts there can be many valid views depending on where the historian studying them places his emphasis. That is a personal choice. Some may agree with this viewpoint. Others may disagree. In many ways this is what makes history such a fascinating subject.

A respected lecturer of mine said that when people debate/argue they are merely rearranging their own prejudices. I'm happy with mine. I'll leave you to sort out yours.

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-19-2011 04:34 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
I'm happy with mine. I'll leave you to sort out yours.
Uh huh. Declare victory and retreat. Sorry, it's just too childish and common a tactic to fool anyone.

It would also lead to extensive mediocrity in historiography, and ultimately to pointlessness in the endeavor. If the sole possible outcome of "most histories" is "simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event," then history isn't a serious pursuit. It's just a hall of mirrors wherein all points are valid, all conclusions equal, and all of the products uniformly worthless.

Who's to say which "personal interpretation" is best? Who is to say what the "sequence of facts" is? Why isn't the book by someone insisting that the moon landings were fake conspiracies just as worthwhile and valuable as Chaikin's book, if what you say is correct?

Obviously "for a given set of facts there can be many valid views depending on where the historian studying them places his emphasis." There are space histories that emphasize the politics, the engineering, the financing, the geology... there are also space histories explaining that Tranquility Base was in a movie studio.

Do you have the right to interpret fact? Of course. Do you have the right to in invent your own facts to suit your interpretation? Not among adults. I presume that your "simple fact" was "Most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event." That isn't simple, it's simplistic. And it's not a fact regardless of your declaration that it is one.

It appears that you don't distinguish at all, between your own prejudices and facts. You're endorsing the practice of prejudicial treatment by suggesting that it is inevitable, as your "respected lecturer" said, and in effect saying that factual conclusions are impossible because only people can attempt to make them, and people have nothing but their own points of view to use.

Fortunately, anyone who aspires to earn respect as a "space historian" wouldn't agree with you. Adding to the body of knowledge requires work, respect for the audience, and a regard for the worth of the material. The "historian" who starts the process with no goal higher than rearranging his own prejudices is unlikely to be taken seriously.

I endorse your right to declare yourself happy with your own prejudices. They'll likely remain all yours.

moorouge
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posted 06-20-2011 01:25 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
You again accuse me of things I never said or meant. Perhaps my command of English is lacking.

Nowhere have I suggested that facts should be made up. Everything has to be properly researched and validated. Might I suggest that you read the thread about BP-1227 to confirm that this is what I believe a historian should do.

The importance placed on a work by an author on a historical subject is down to his peers and how the general public view it. Some books about the Moon landings I like, some I think are lacking. That comes down to the personal input from the writer - the style, how he/she presents the facts and the emphasis placed on those facts to draw a conclusion.

I do apologise for the bruising this topic has obviously made to your ego in particular. Behind the exchanges I think that our opinion of what makes a historian is not that far apart. However, I see little point in continuing with this correspondence as you seem determined to totally misrepresent both what I said and what I meant.

Dave Clow
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posted 06-20-2011 12:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
With all due respect, moorouge, you can put your "apology" where the moonlight doesn't shine. My ego is untouched by your adolescent projection, and your spin doesn't disguise the record.

Did you say "facts should be made up"? No. Did I say you said that? No.

Did you say that "for a given set of facts there can be many valid views depending on where the historian studying them places his emphasis. That is a personal choice"? Indeed you did.

Did you say that "most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event"? Again, indeed you did; twice, in fact. In your view histories are histories are "still only a personal view of what actually happened." Would I call that simplistic and misleading? Indeed I would. Does that suggest to me that you think historiography is insubstantial and unreliable because it's "still only a personal view of what actually happened"? It does.

If the study of history invites this kind of subjectivity in its creation and thereafter in its interpretation, it's no wonder that so many cranks and wingnuts get their fifteen minutes of fame. Perhaps your training is lacking too -- I can't imagine a middle school history class, let alone a university history program, that sets the bar so low as to say that "most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event" and that the product of the student's work ought to be "only a personal view of what actually happened." Basic respect for the process and for the very idea of factuality in the first place would require more from the students than "only a personal view"; hence the difference between, say, the astronaut autobiographies and Chaikin's "A Man on the Moon." The former are memoirs -- "personal views." The latter achieves more than that. If "only a personal view of what actually happened" is possible -- as you say -- than there's no point in writing or reading the latter.

You say that the relative merit of these works in your thinking "comes down to the personal input from the writer - the style, how he/she presents the facts and the emphasis placed on those facts to draw a conclusion." If "only a personal view of what actually happened" is possible, then how does any writer determine factuality? If the record is all just personal views, then any would-be historian, even with the best intentions, is relying on a record made unreliable by a preponderance of personal views, and arriving at facts to draw a conclusion is practically impossible. We see this all the time, sadly. Even the best histories are flawed. The dubious histories can take any set of facts, factoids, rumors and bunk, and, using your low standards, arrive quite intentionally at a conclusion that seems logical and is a outright lie. Bart Sibrel can justify his falsifications and delusions by calling them "only a personal view of what actually happened." Any historian with integrity aspires to do better.

Am I "accusing you of "things I never said or meant"? Not at all. It looks as though you're the one who's making the revisions, not I. Maybe your command of English is lacking when you're compelled to reinterpret yourself every day just to spin away from your previous day's remarks.

"Bruising"? Not in the slightest. Infantile and untrustworthy? Yes. No one needs to "totally misrepresent" your thinking on this for you. You can't seem to pin yourself down on what you mean.

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-20-2011 12:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
While we're on the topic of personal views and historical records, I'd like to offer a couple of instances where the personal views and the facts collide.

One of them I heard at Spacefest, concerning the allegedly "eyewitness" testimony of a respected astronaut about events in the MOCR during the Apollo 13 emergency. This astronaut offered his personal on-site recollections of the moment; however, another witness says that the astronaut wasn't present in the room at the time. The contradictory version does come from a person who was certainly present there.

No one suggests that the astronaut is falsifying the record deliberately, but this is an object lesson in the fragility of memory, and moreover, on the danger of "personal views" being mistaken for facts. One such error in the record sets off a chain of further ones.

One of our readers here can give more detail on this, if he chooses.

I am at liberty to say more about a second example. It was General Motors that created the Lunar Rover, and a GM engineer named Ferenc Pavlics who designed the piano-wire tires that worked so well for Apollos 15, 16, and 17. Now, sadly, Goodyear is publicizing a story that they are the makers of the wire wheels. This appears to be a simple error on their part, but correcting it is nearly impossible because they can reach a huge audience with the mistake, and as the error is repeated, it gains credence. We may well find that would-be historians cite it as fact. The utility of their work would be compromised without them even knowing it.

Both these examples are cautionary tales about the rigor of studying history, and about its ultimate value. The point of it isn't simply to be "liked" or accepted by the public; it's to be used. In these cases, particularly in the latter, the history is tainted. Someone seeking the useful facts about the Rovers will be looking in the wrong place, among the wrong people, and come up with nothing while the facts go neglected. Ferenc Pavlics has a Rover tire in his personal possession; Goodyear has "a personal view of what actually happened.” One of those two things is useful.

moorouge
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From: U.K.
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posted 06-21-2011 06:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Dave Clow:
Am I "accusing you of "things I never said or meant"? Not at all. It looks as though you're the one who's making the revisions, not I. Maybe your command of English is lacking when you're compelled to reinterpret yourself every day just to spin away from your previous day's remarks.
This statement is bordering on slanderous. Be that as it may, let me give you an example of what I mean.

Depending on what respected historian one reads, the demise of Scott's polar party in 1912 is put down to either poor planning, or unusually severe weather conditions, or misuse of transport. The first of these covers many aspects of the 1910 - 1913 expedition.

One can find books about Scott which emphasise each depending upon the authors' interpretation of the facts. For example, Ranulph Fiennes portrays Scott as a competent leader whilst Roland Huntford takes the opposite view. Both use the same historical record without any 'made up facts'. Both are valid histories and which is the correct one is left to the reader's own judgement as to who presents the most compelling case.

This, despite your failure to appreciate the fact, is what I mean by personal interpretation and emphasis.

Without wishing to be accused of being revisionist again, let me repeat that at the end of this you and I are not all that far apart on what makes a 'historian'.

On edit - is it that our obvious antagonism towards each other stems from the fact that I take a much broader picture of history and historians than you? You seem to confine yourself the narrow aspect of just space historians.

Dave Clow
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From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-21-2011 12:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I’d only suggest that you use the word “personal” less liberally in this context. You said earlier that “Most histories are simply a personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event,” but your examples Fiennes and Huntford would, I hope, be quick to say that they aspired to produce more responsible scholarship than “simply a personal interpretation.” Personal interpretation for some writers is a license—in their view, their personal interpretation means that “everything [is] properly researched and validated” with a very broad definition of what “properly researched and validated” means. As we have seen, a cascade of irresponsible personal interpretation leads to the kind of pseudo-history that entertains readers of David Icke and other conspiracy mongers: fantasy fiction with fastidious footnotes attempting to masquerade as responsible historiography. Someone selling that nonsense could paper over their craziness by saying that they’re as entitled as anyone else to their "personal interpretation of the sequence of facts which lead to an event."

You seem remarkably self-assured about deciding what is and isn’t a “fact,” and I still wonder if you know the difference between something you would like to be true and a proven fact. I don’t agree that it is a “fact” that you “take a much broader picture of history and historians” than I do, because I doubt that many writers who would fall under your over-broad definition of "historians" are historians at all, any more than I think graffiti is "art." In other words, I don’t think your picture is “broader.” I think your picture is wrong.

I’d suggest as well that if you’re required to say over and over what you mean, perhaps you did it poorly in the first place, and in the second also. I’d suggest as well that gloating about “bruising egos” here or anywhere else is laughably adolescent.

kr4mula
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Posts: 599
From: Cinci, OH
Registered: Mar 2006

posted 06-21-2011 01:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for kr4mula   Click Here to Email kr4mula     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Dave - your discursion on subjectivity is precisely what post-modernist historians would argue is actually the case. There is actually no way of "knowing" precisely what happened (and why) at any given historical point because all of the "facts" cannot be known (even by those who were there). Therefore any history is an inherently subjective product of one's sources, knowledge, contemporary context, and personal bias. At least that's the pithy version of that school of thought.

Moorouge is right in that you two aren't that far apart. In fact, your arguments are much like historians would argue over a given set of facts. In many cases, it is not the facts themselves that are in question, but rather the *meaning* or interpretation of those facts. For the class of professional or academic historians, it is the search for meaning among the facts that separates them from amateur historians, antiquarians, and the like. Just digging up new facts about an event isn't enough to satisfy the requirements for that sort of history. Your have to derive some meaning from those facts so that we learn something from a broader perspective. As Roger Launius, an indisputable space historian, always put it to me when discussing my own research: "So what?"

So it seems that the argument developing here is how you interpret "interpretation." Historians use that term to describe how we put meaning onto a set of facts, not how we make up facts. The whole point of historical scholarship is to document your sources so others can verify your facts, agree or disagree with your interpretation, and publish alternative findings if necessary. If you're found to make up facts, then you and your work is discredited. The fake moon landing is a good example. No historian would say that people who believe we faked the moon landing are doing good historian because that "interpretation" runs counter to the established evidence. What would be a legitimate area for argument might be: was the moon landing a watershed moment for the country, or an aberration? NASA's recent conference on the meaning of Sputnik is another great example.

I don't wish to create strawmen of either of your arguments, so I'll stop there. I'll conclude by emphasizing what HistorianMom quoted: all manner of people can and do produce history. In my opinion, if your write history that can stand up to the scrutiny of your peers, then you're a historian, regardless of your training, experience, education, or employer.

moorouge
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posted 06-21-2011 02:01 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Kr4mula - I agree completely and without reservation to your contribution. Thanks.

Dave Clow
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Posts: 213
From: South Pasadena, CA 91030
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posted 06-21-2011 02:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Dave Clow   Click Here to Email Dave Clow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Human frailty and humility require that we concede the impossibility of knowing all the facts about anything, ourselves included. However, it is a slippery slope to start with the unavoidable inherence of subjectivity and then take it as an invitation to substitute truthiness for fact. Moorouge and I are very far apart indeed when he says "A 'historian' is ANY person who researches a topic from the past and then writes down his own interpretation of the results of that research," just as two "histories" of the Apollo program are far apart when one of them declares that men did walk on the moon and one of the says they didn't. Both might start with the unavoidable inheritance of subjectivity. One seeks to minimize it, and the other seeks to use it.

I concur with the position that if your write history that can stand up to the scrutiny of your peers, then you're a historian, regardless of your training, experience, education, or employer. I think that definition would exclude many self-proclaimed "historians" who research a topic from the past and then write down their own interpretation of the results of that research.

It's worth reminding ourselves that we live in an age of unprecedented capacity to self-publish. The very idea of peer-review is more crucial now than ever just because it is so painfully easy today for people to avoid it. Publishing books, websites, and films are now within reach of anyone at all who feels they have researched a topic from the past and then written down their own interpretation of the results of that research. Moorouge, presumably, would call such a person an "historian" since they are surely one of the ANY he mentions. I would not.

No peer-scrutiny at all is required for the pseudo-history on numerous moon hoax websites but the authors of that fraud insist that having researched the topic from the past and then written down their own interpretation of the results of that research, that they are entitled to a hearing like the one we give Andy, Colin, Francis and the other respected historians here while they explain that "This article was written to prove, once and for all, that we are not being told the truth about the NASA film footage of the Apollo missions. This will astound even the most hardened skeptic and convince many people that the whole Apollo moon project of the late 1960's and early 70's were a complete hoax."

I'm making a simple point: while "ANY person is welcome to research a topic from the past and then write down his own interpretation of the results of that research," That doesn't make him an historian and it doesn't make the product of his work "history," any more than an excellent forgery of a Neil Armstrong signature is a real one. Anyone is welcome to investigate and interpret facts as best they can, but no one should be called an historian who feels he can invent facts or dispense with the very idea of factuality.

alcyone
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Posts: 33
From: Ontario, Canada
Registered: Sep 2010

posted 06-21-2011 04:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for alcyone     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by kr4mula:
There is actually no way of "knowing" precisely what happened (and why) at any given historical point because all of the "facts" cannot be known (even by those who were there).
This idea is the basis for every junk science and conspiracy theory out there.

I realize the subject is "history and historians", not science and scientists or engineering and engineers, for that matter. However, this is a space site and something has to be said about the value of academic rigour, or professionalism. After all, without that you don't get into space.

quote:
Just digging up new facts about an event isn't enough to satisfy the requirements for that sort of history. You have to derive some meaning...
Without the facts, the meaning is pretty obscure, isn't it? I like facts: by collecting more data, we have a better level of understanding. The analysis of that data may require a certain level of knowledge or expertise though.

As to recording history, the digital revolution (the cameras, the internet, the blogs, citizen science for eg.) is propelling every one of us into new roles, some of which we may never have contemplated until now. We live in very interesting times.

moorouge
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Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
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posted 06-22-2011 12:15 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by alcyone:
We live in very interesting times.

Beware. There is an old Chinese curse that says "May you live in interesting times".

Now, as a historian one has to interpret, i.e. place a meaning, on what this fact might be about.

Obviousman
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Posts: 427
From: NSW, Australia
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posted 07-01-2011 06:53 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Obviousman   Click Here to Email Obviousman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think a space historian is anyone who has studied the written records of the manned space programmes and has a good knowledge of the events upon which they talk about.

You probably gain more credibility if you have been published, but I don't think that would preclude you. I think a measure is the breadth and depth into the subject which you can be counted as a reliable source.

It must be noted that knowledge and recounting of the written record is one thing; the interpretation of those events is another. The latter does not determine if you are a space historian or not, but would influence how others perceived your ability.

Machodoc
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Posts: 203
From: VA
Registered: Aug 2005

posted 07-07-2011 11:24 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Machodoc   Click Here to Email Machodoc     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I just had published an article in Quest entitled "Moonglow: Space Diplomacy in the Nixon Administration." At the old age of 52 I'm about to finish my second master's degree, the new one being an MA in history. While my personal interests lead me to publish about space history, a combination of both finishing my degree and publishing more about space topics would in my opinion be necessary for me to assume the mantle of "space historian."

I love to research and write about history. This happens to be my favorite forum!

benguttery
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Posts: 542
From: Fort Worth, TX, USA
Registered: Feb 2005

posted 07-12-2011 05:52 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for benguttery   Click Here to Email benguttery     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
One of the best parts of space history is there is not a lot of it -- meaning it has all occurred in recent times. You can actually talk to the men and women who made much of the history. I am also a fan of World War One aviation. Not any of those folks to talk to any more.

moorouge
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Posts: 1490
From: U.K.
Registered: Jul 2009

posted 07-14-2011 02:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by benguttery:
One of the best parts of space history is there is not a lot of it --
This is only correct for a given definition of 'space history'. There is plenty for the space student to study going right back to the 5th century.

This said, I recently came across this quote from Cicero which might well be pertinent to the discussion on this thread and the relationship between student and our 'space historian'.

"In discussion it is not so much weight of authority as force of argument that should be demanded. Indeed, the authority of those who profess to teach is often a hindrance to those who desire to learn; they cease to employ their own judgement and take what they perceive to be the verdict of their chosen master as settling the question... So potent was an opinion already decided, making authority prevail unsupported by reason."
As I used to tell my students - your opinion is as valid as that of anyone else providing you can support it by reason and argument. We've covered this earlier in the thread, but this is particularly true when our budding historian comes to 'interpreting' and placing into context past space events.

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