Easily Distracted on how historians answer the “so what” question. (Lovely, pondering how best to use it in my class next semester—it might replace this book, which I’ve been happy with, but a free short alternative is always nice.) The Cliopatria version, with different comments.
My personal preferences are:
5. The past helps us make N as big as possible: it is a source of data for making generalizations, formulating models, constructing claims about human universals. Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs and Steel; David Christian, Maps of Time.
6. The past challenges generalizations, models and universals through attention to particulars and microhistories. Carlo Ginzberg, The Cheese and the Worms.
7. The past is procedural: we study it to learn how dynamic processes or change works out over time (without worry so much about the consequences of the history we are studying)
a little bit:
8. Hindsight is 20/20: we study a frozen moment in time because we can understand far better the total spectrum of social relationships, causal relationships, etc. than we can understand the present (here we choose richly knowable examples to study).
12. The past is detection: we study it because we like solving puzzles and mysteries. Charles Van Onselen, The Fox and the Flies.
13. The past is entertainment or personal enlightenment: we study it because it has great stories, or because of the pleasures of narrative. John Demos, The Unredeemed Captive.