- Oct 2022
Pomeroy, Earl. “Frederic L. Paxson and His Approach to History.” The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 39, no. 4 (1953): 673–92. https://doi.org/10.2307/1895394
read on 2022-10-30 - 10-31
A recent writer has called attention to apassage in Paxson's presidential address before the American Historical Associationin 1938, in which he remarked that historians "needed Cheyney's warning . . . not towrite in 1917 or 1918 what might be regretted in 1927 and 1928."
There are lessons in Frederic L. Paxson's 1938 address to the American Historical Association for todays social media culture and the growing realm of cancel culture when he remarked that historians "needed Cheyney's warning... not to write in 1917 or 1918 what might be regretted in 1927 and 1928.
After his retirement in 1947 the Carnegie Corporation of New York persuadedhim to write a history of American state universities, which came to interest him in-tensely. At the end of a year he had written half of the book and sorted his lastnotes. He notified the university administration that he was unable to complete thejob before leaving his study for the hospital where he died, October 24, 1948. Thevolume is being completed by one of his students, Professor Walton E. Bean of theUniversity of California.
Even following his retirement in 1947, Paxson continued to take notes specifically on education for a project which he never got to finish before he died in hospital on October 24, 1948.
I am not much like Turner ; but I believe that I am like him in that Iam aware that in history you cannot prove an inference. You cannotprove causation, much as you crave to do it. You may present sequencesof events, whose relationship suggests a link-up of cause and consequence ;
you may carry on the inquiry for a lifetime without discovering other events inconsistent with the hypothesis which has caught your eye. But you can never get beyond a circumstantial case. . . .<br /> "A Footnote to the Safety-Valve," August 15, 1940, Paxson Papers (University of California Library, Berkeley)
The Verdict of History," he scrawled on anote : "There is none — . . . Apart from verif of facts There is noverdict only onesided testimony." "
Note, n.d. (probably made during the 1920's), unsorted, Paxson File.
"Say what one may of historical philos-ophy," he wrote in 1926, "history is a matter of facts; and theestablishment of facts, desiccated as they may be, is the chief func-tion of the genuine historian."
Review of John B. Black, The Art of History; A Study of Four Great His- torians of the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1926), New York Herald Tribune Books, December 12, 1926, p. 12.
He had a separate bibliographical file,kept in six scantily filled drawers in his coat closet, and it is obvious
that he used it little in later years. His author-title entries usually went into the main file, after the appropriate subject index cards.
This is a curious pattern and not often seen. Apparently it was Paxson's practice to place his author-title entries into his main file following the related subject index cards instead of in a completely separate bibliographical file. He did apparently have one comprised of six scantily filled drawers which he kept in his coat closet, but it was little used in his later years.
What benefits might this relay? It certainly more directly relates the sources closer in physical proximity within one's collection to the notes to which they relate. This might be of particular beneficial use in a topical system where all of one's notes relating to a particular subject are close physically rather than being linked or cross referenced as they were in Luhmann's example.
A particular color of cards may help in this regard to more easily find these sources.
Also keep in mind that Paxson's system was topical-chronological, so there may also be reasons for doing this that fit into his chronological scheme. Was he filing them in sections so that the publication dates of the sources fit into this scheme as well? This may take direct review to better known and understand his practice.
The mass of Paxson's paper work may appear more clearly nowthan the zest with which he labored, but the essence of his methodwas in the spirit rather than in the product.
Ahrens and others following him have argued that there is a sort of lightness imbued both in one's thinking processes and life by making and accumulating notes. The cognitive load is lessened by offloading one's thoughts onto pieces of paper that can be revised, compared, and juxtaposed as a means of building some written or creative endeavor, even if it's slowly over time.
Frederic L. Paxson's mode of life made this seem to be the case for him. There is evidence that he was easier able to manage his daily life by his note taking system. He accumulated no work on his desk and carried none home and was able to more easily give his attention to others.
Is this a result of breaking things down into tiny, bite sized chunks that were difficult to actually interrupt?
Was it the system or his particular temperament? Are there other examples of this easier mode of life for note takers? Is there a pattern? What portions can be attributed to the system and one's ability to stick to it versus their particular temperaments?
Other than small examples in my own life, this may be one of the first examples I've seen of this mode of work. Definitely worth looking at others.
"Do not take out of a secondarywork a paragraph or its substance and incorporate it in your work. . . . Use it if youmust, but restate it in your own terms, and make its form entirely yours. Give thefootnote of course but remember that you must be the author."
Paxson advised that one should completely know, understand, and own one's sources and materials so that they would be able to act as auteur when relaying those ideas in their own theses.
"There is no reason why a writer should not useopenly . . . the contributions of a corps of helpers," he said ofJames Ford Rhodes ; "but the result of such historical method isunlikely to be volumes that reveal unity of historical constructionor the ripe judgment and point of view that come only to the writerwho has done his own selecting and discarding among the sources."
Review of James Ford Rhodes, History of the United States From Hayes to McKinley, 1877-1896 (New York, 1919), American Historical Review (New York), XXV (April, 1920), 525. Paxson sometimes filed notes handed in by students in the course of routine checks on their work (to about 1913), and he regularly took notes on students' oral seminar reports, but he apparently did not depend on such notes. On the other hand, he often went out of his way, in his own writings, to refer to related works by his students.
This almost sounds like he's proposing an auteur theory for historical studies rather than film studies.
Note, "Quotations: make them brief," n.d., unclassified, Paxson File, and note,"Your sentences must be your own." "A long quotation burdens your text. Theprinter commonly puts it in a different type and indicates that it is a thing apart.The quotation will be most effective when it is brief and pertinent and may beamalgamated in your own paragraph. The more completely you understand yoursources the more aptly & gracefully you will quote." "Do not take out of a secondarywork a paragraph or its substance and incorporate it in your work. . . . Use it if youmust, but restate it in your own terms, and make its form entirely yours. Give thefootnote of course but remember that you must be the author."
Paxson doesn't directly indicate to rewrite for one's own digestion and understanding process, but hints at it strongly when he says that "Your sentences must be your own." By making and owning your sentences, you ought to have completely understood the ideas and made them a part of you prior to transmitting them back along to others.
Under Paxon's framing and knowing that he also sometimes held onto is notes for a while before forming final opinions, one's notes, even when public (like my own are), are still just partial truths of thought caught in the moment. It takes further digestion and juxtaposition with additional thoughts which are later rewritten in longer form to make articles, books, etc.
Note taking is a process of sense making seeking out the truth of a situation.
the author must not merely articulate his sources; he mustdigest them. A long passage quoted or closely followed "remainsan undigested bit of foreign matter." "Over quotation may meanunder thought."
relatable to: https://hypothes.is/a/wIyvtm0oEeyNypNtc--Clw
A note system, he told his stu-dents, should permit rearrangement and study of notes in differentrelationships "until the fact itself is brought out against the back-ground in all its important details."
- Note headed "notes," n.d., Paxson File, unclassified.
Hethus followed, over a wider range of data than any one man couldhope to use fully, the advice that he sometimes gave in reviews,that a historian should work fully through the background material.
Frederic L. Paxson frequently advised that a historian should work fully through the background material.
he file wascomplex enough, and the task it represented was large enough, sothat few of his sixty-five doctors, who watched the file grow in theseminar as part of the historical laboratory process, have main-tained full files of their own.
Owing to the size and complex nature of Paxson's note collection which he used and demonstrated to his students in his teaching and historical laboratory process, few of the sixty-five doctors who studied under him maintained files of their own.
he three-by-five inch slipsof thin paper eventually filled about eighty wooden file drawers.And he classified the notes day by day, under topical-chronologicalheadings that eventually extended from 4639 B.C. to 1949, theyear after his death.
Frederic L. Paxson kept a collection of 3 x 5 " slips of thin paper that filled eighty wooden file drawers which he organized using topical-chronologic headings spanning 4639 BCE to 1949.
Occasionally he noted down what he heard and saw aswell as what he read, and sometimes what he said and did, althoughhe also kept a diary in separate form.
In addition to an extensive note collection, Paxson kept a separate diary, indicating a different practicing in a different form.
The notes that Paxson left are unique both inscope and in organization. They span his professional lifetime,from the years when he studied colonial history with Channing atHarvard and taught ancient and medieval history at the College ofColorado
span of note taking
tie left, however, a record of his own approach to theproblems of writing history in his book reviews, which with hisarticles are probably his most characteristic writings, and in a half-century's accumulation of notes that he used in writing his books,and that he might have used in writing other books.
half-century's accumulation of notes
- open questions
- note taking affordances
- bibliographical notes
- point of view
- circumstantial evidence
- cancel culture
- note taking
- critical history
- chronological headings
- note taking advice
- tools for thought
- 3 x 5" index cards
- reading for understanding
- note taking transmission
- social media
- cause and effect
- Frederic L. Paxson
- auteur theory
- chronological order
- Cheyney's warning
- 3 x 5" slips
- Frederic L. Paxson's zettelkasten
- writing for understanding
- historical method
- topical headings
- unreasonable productivity
- digesting material
- Frederick Jackson Turner
- writing advice
It is possible this Miscellany collection was assembled by Schutz as part of his own research as an historian, as well as the letters and documents collected as autographs for his interest as a collector;
Is it possible that this miscellany collection is of a zettelkasten nature?
Found via a search of the Huntington Library for Frederic L. Paxson's zettelkasten