There’s been an interesting development in the history community (or what could loosely be called ‘the history community’, only it isn’t always much of a community and some of it isn’t much about history) I’ve been watching with interest. It all started with this blog post. I’m sure many of you have seen it. It has to do with the Lincoln Roll and a pretty speculative interpretation as to its meaning. There’s some shaky Latin translation and a fairly wild leap to a conclusion, but it wouldn’t be the first time – by far – that such a leap has been made. As a starting point for discussion, it’s certainly done its job! And that’s the interesting bit, the discussion – the response to that discussion and the response to that response.
Just to clarify – the ‘eureka moment’ doesn’t refer to anything in the blog post, or the Lincoln Roll, for that matter. It refers to the series of little lights that should be going on – right now – in several heads; it refers to a blinding realisation that this is how it should be done. But, so far, there’s little sign the lights have been seen and, if there’s been any kind of realisation, ‘blinding’ is something of an overstatement. Here’s what happened: Someone blogged about the Lincoln Roll, did some shaky Latin translation and leapt to a fairly wild conclusion. This has been discussed in the history community, and on its fringes. Various people have posted comments on the blog and (and here’s the important bit) a lot of those comments have been approved. So, rather than shutting down the debate, ignoring the challenges or badmouthing the challengers, the blogger has not only conceded he may have got something wrong (in at least one discussion), but given space on his blog to several voices of dissent and disagreement.
Just to give a quick counter-example. In a recent book. John Ashdown-Hill misinterpreted the arms of Edmund and Jasper Tudor as being the ‘Beaufort arms’ rather than, as they surely were, differenced royal arms. Their half-brother was the King of England and, right there in the relevant Parliamentary Rolls, there’s a bit that refers to their entitlement to bear the royal arms. It isn’t spelled out in those exact words, but it’s pretty clear from the context – and from the very fact that, from that time on, they did bear the royal arms – this is what’s being referred to. Now, various people have pointed out this error and backed it up from the sources. The similarity between the Beaufort arms and those of the Tudor brothers has been (patiently) explained on the basis that all three are based on the royal arms – that no direct hereditary connection between the Beauforts and the Tudors is needed to explain anything. Rather than welcoming the debate, rather than conceding that Ashdown-Hill might have got this wrong, those who stand by this passed-on misunderstanding, have retreated behind the barricades, responded on rather personal terms and (for reasons that are still shrouded in mystery) decided that anyone who holds to a view contrary to theirs must be Egyptian.
Maybe I expect too much of people, maybe I assume there’s more insight out there in the world than there actually is. Maybe my hope the little lights would go on, or the blinding flash of realisation would manifest itself, is evidence of an over-optimistic nature. But that’s exactly what I hoped. That a whole bunch of people would now be saying “Hey! We disagree with this guy, we’ve set out our reasons for disagreeing… and he’s not shutting us down, or calling us names, or responding with personal insults! Maybe that’s the way we should be doing this, too!”
But my hopes have been utterly dashed after seeing this blog post. I suppose it’s just another example of a double-standard that refuses to disappear – that the people who demand fair treatment, are themselves given fair treatment, are just not the ones to offer it to others.