Friday, July 4, 2014
7 tips for writing history by John Hirst
“The documents are not the world; they are the surviving traces of the world you have to imagine.” – John Hirst
1. In research don’t start at the beginning and hope to reach the end; work over the whole period the whole of the time.
2. If all the books agree, look at the evidence again (they may have been copying each other).
3. Play with titles and tables of contents soon after you start—the research will change these and then they will guide the research.
4. Use the documents to find the passions and preoccupations of your people—and write about those.
5. Don’t refer to organisations by acronyms; use short titles. The longer the list of abbreviations, the worse the book.
6. Don’t write with your notes close at hand. The documents are not the world; they are the surviving traces of the world you have to imagine.
7. Read over your notes for the next part—and then sleep. Don’t get up until you have decided on an opening sentence.
John Hirst’s latest book Australian History in 7 Questions is available now in all good bookstores.