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Robert's Historical Miniatures and Musings (Slow Grow League)

Robert's Historical Miniatures and Musings (Slow Grow League)

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Monday Musing - Some Dude on YouTube

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Perhaps a bit of a rant as well as a few thoughts of who we trust in a world of information.

As you may be aware I have recently become interested in doing a little historical research on members of my family who served with the North Irish Horse (NIH) during WW2. My great uncle Issac comes from the paternal side of the family. He passed when I was a teenager and I knew him quite well as he lived in the same town as myself. I have many fond memories of him. During the war he acted as a tank driver and after the war he worked as a signalman on the railways. To a young boy, these were the two best jobs ever!

The other family member, another great uncle, whom I don’t remember ever meeting, comes from the maternal side of the family and I didn’t know that he actually existed and served with Uncle Issac until my mother mentioned it to me a short time ago. This discovery was the catalyst that has stimulated the desire to learn more about the campaigns in North Africa, the war in Italy, the North Irish Horse and the role my two great uncles played.

As I have begun to dip my toe into learning more about the North African and Italian campaigns that the NIH took part in, two things have struck me. Firstly, I didn’t know where to start as there is so much information out there. I was going to say too much information but couldn’t decide if I was being literal or metaphorical by using the word too. Secondly, and the main point of this musing, I don’t know who to trust and whether the information that I am watching or reading is factually correct. How do I know that “Some Dude on YouTube”, the blogger, the Twitter handle, the author is actually trustworthy and the information I am reading, watching or listening to is actually right?

DAMMIT

I loved history at school until a change of teacher resulted in history lessons morphing from something that epitomised the joy of learning to the bore of repeated lessons of pure dictation. Instead of time spent using DAMMIT (Date, Author, Mode, Motive, Information and Tone) to analyse sources, it was hours of continual writing and boredom. This pushed me down the path of maths and economics and I ended up spending six years studying economics when history was something I had more interest in at the time. While I don’t have the skills of a historian (an A in GCSE history doesn’t cut the mustard), I was always encouraged to think critically and have developed a set of research and analytical skills through my education and working life.

Yet still in this world of information I am confused. I struggle with a lack of citations, I don’t know where information comes from – though not listing my sources is something I am guilty of this myself. I don’t have access to academic journals, or a fully furnished university library. The internet is now my biggest resource. A polished looking article or blog post could be based on the ramblings of “Some Dude on YouTube” and if this dude is incorrect then so is the article. I think we all have come across examples of people unknowingly passing of fiction as fact.

Is the Library a lie?

I used to be trusting of books, but now I am not so sure. The standard of editorial work and fact checking in publishing these days does not seem to be up to the rigors of earlier years. Some authors are also guilty of not being as meticulous with their research as in the past. I recently had a relative visit for a few days, they also happen to be a history teacher. They were reading a history book aimed at children they had purchased from a museum and they were actually appalled at the number of mistakes and historically incorrect information that had been written. Dates were wrong, and events described that were chronologically incorrect and factually wrong. This was not a difference in interpretation, but was clearly presenting wrong information as fact. We can all disagree with each others interpretation of the facts, and it is why I find historical debates so fascinating, but some facts are indisputable. Some leeway should be allowed when you are simplifying events for children but it does not excuse wrong dates and being factually incorrect.

There are so many Dudes on YouTube, dare I say, masquerading as historians. The information is professionally presented but sometimes I wonder how unbiased or accurate the video is. You can’t even go back through their sources as they don’t list them. Don’t get me wrong, there are many great resources out there but it all comes back to the point of this musing, I find it difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff.

I also see many people describe themselves as historians on their websites, blogs and Twitter descriptions. To me, someone is an historian if they are employed or making their living in the field. They have been trained and their abilities scrutinised, and not just by their internet peers. I don’t call myself an economist, as I don’t work as one, but have the training and skills to be one.

It is also not always easy to check the credentials of these so called historians. Perhaps this is academic and intellectual snobbery on my behalf, but a Twitter handle retweeting other people’s work, pictures or articles does not make you a historian. I have described myself as a very amateur historian in this project and even then history aficionado or wannabe would be a more accurate statement.

I don’t have the answers to my conundrum, I don’t have enough background knowledge, skills or the intelligence to differentiate between good history and bad history. All I can do is fact check, and check some more. I will not be relying on only one source, I will be listening to podcasts, watching “Some Dude on YouTubes” videos and reading all the material I can get my hands on, checking the accuracy of the information as I go along. I will be reaching out to others for help, love getting advice and would appreciate if people come and correct me if I am wrong. But perhaps don’t get me started on Wikipedia or people who think knowledge or intelligence is based on the ability to type in a search bar.

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