History thickets

History is a dense, wild, bramble-choked thicket of unpredictable events, causes, effects and interconnecting influences from which jobbing historians hack out messy clumps sized to become books, articles or – should some competing vandal have already slashed through an area – corrective comments. The task is then to hold aloft one’s freshly ripped out prize, still rife with broken roots and tendrils, and to blend a touch of artifice with truth in order to convince others that they really see – especially if they squint properly in just the right light – a neat and tidy whole, if not completely self-contained then at least internally consistent and comprehensible.

(Paul Kielstra, historian of the slave trade)

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