Awhile back, Guy Rocha, retired Nevada State Archivist, and I were
discussing the definition of "Historian" and historical writing. Guy told me there
is no definition of Historian in American law or in known judicial
decisions, but that there is an important one from a British judge on the Queen's
Bench, part of the High Court.
Since many of the Forum members are probably already familiar with Irving
v. Penguin Books Ltd., in which the last appeal was denied in December,
2000, I am sure that for them I am late to this party. In the suit, David
Irving said the Penguin book written by Deborah Lipstadt had defamed his
reputation as a historian. The court found otherwise. The case is easily Googled,
and the Wickipedia entry is interesting.
The lawsuit dealt with a Holocaust denier against a Lipstadt's book, which
countered the denier personally and harshly. The Queen's Bench decision
runs 333 pages. It has since been digested by Yale Law Journal writer Wendie
E. Schneider into seven points which the judge wrote must all be met to be
considered an Objective Historian. I found the condensed points interesting
and feel they are worth sharing with those Forum members who may not be
aware of the case.
Since I enjoy working with primary documents, and believe secondary
sources (which by definition include my own writing) should be carefully
considered, I find the seven points to be good guidelines.
1. The historian must treat sources with appropriate reservations.
2. The historian must not dismiss counterevidence without scholarly
3. The historian must be even-handed in treatment of evidence and eschew
4. The historian must clearly indicate any speculation;
5. The historian must not mistranslate documents or mislead by omitting
parts of documents;
6. The historian must weigh the authenticity of all accounts, not merely
those that contradict a favored view;
7. The historian must take the motives of historical actors into
Robert E Stewart
Carson City Nevada