World Accumulation, 1492-1789

World Accumulation, 1492-1789

World Accumulation, 1492-1789

World Accumulation, 1492-1789

Excerpt

I think authors ought to look back and give us some record
of how their works developed, not because their works are
important (they may turn out to be unimportant) but
because we need to know more of the process of history
writing. Historians today generally recognize, like social
scientists, that their scholarship is an activity in which
they are themselves participants. Writers of history are
not just observers. They are themselves part of the act and
need to observe themselves in action. Their view of what
“really” happened is filtered first through the spotty and
often hit-or-miss screens of available evidence, and second
through the prisms. of their own interest, selection, and
interpretation of the evidence they see. The result can only
be an imperfect approximation. Fortunately, no one has
to regard it as the last word. Once an author looks back at
what he thought he was trying to do, many perspectives
emerge. Foremost is that of ignorance, at least in my case.
A book that to its author is a mere antechamber to a
whole unwritten library, bursting with problems await
ing exploration, may seem to his readers to have a solidity
which shunts their research elsewhere. It is useless to assure
them that the book is really full of holes
.

—John King Fairbank,
Trade and Diplomacy on the China Coast (1969)

In this preface, I shall first try to look back and give some record of how this work developed, before saying something about what this book is about. In a way, I shall reminisce and dialogue in my own . . .

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