The Shakespeare Conference: SHK 11.2177 Tuesday, 28 November 2000
Date: Monday, 27 Nov 2000 14:09:39 -0600
Subject: 11.2167 Pat Historians / English Strangers
Comment: Re: SHK 11.2167 Pat Historians / English Strangers
Sorry about that.
As it happens, I just left off doing a bit of reading into the Wandering
of the Peoples during which I found myself in one of those situations
where the more I learned the less I knew. Having taught many scores of
students over the years the stock business about the Huns, the Goths,
and the Vandals, I suddenly started wondering what the hell really
happened. (Actually, it was those maps that the history department uses
with the arrows and the tribal names and the dates that finally got to
me.) I discovered that nobody knows for certain. The primary sources are
incomplete, sketchy or fabulous. In the 19th Century stock theories were
concocted to explain what few hard facts existed, plus the array of
legend and quasi-legend, but that they don't hold up under strict
scrutiny. I was dealing only peripherally with our linguistic ancestors,
but the same process seemed to apply. Grand theories quickly get shot
full of holes by experts, but the experts have no grand theories to
offer in their stead.
Obviously, things happened. Groups of people known loosely as the Goths
did go crashing about the Western Empire for a century or so after the
battle Adrianople. They were set in motion by the arrival of the Huns
whom, fierce as the Goths were, they did not at first know how to fight.
The Goths and others settled in Italy, Gaul, Spain and North Africa.
They fought the Western Empire, the Eastern Empire, the Huns and one
another (a lot). But the details are very often quite hazy and
ambiguous, marred by propaganda, legend-mongering, or incompleteness.
What the historian is to do with this mess I don't know, but I think he
or she ought (now) to make it as clear as possible that the old
generalizations no longer hold up. The quotation struck me as being
typical of this sort of generalization, but I didn't mean to be kicking
any shins. If the entrance examination for a college requires a credal
believe in this version, then of course it must be learned. But I do
think that a decent level of uncertainty should be conveyed, too.
(And you're certainly correct about my not getting into the RIGHT
college. In my strange and checkered career I have never seemed to find
myself at the right place at the right time, but always a little abaft
of it. Or more than a little.)