Thursday, February 9, 2012

Reading and Writing

E. H. Carr, What is History? (Harmondsworth: Pelican Books, 1961), p. 28 argues against the assumption that there are two distinct phases in a historian's work, i.e. first taking notes or "filling notebooks with facts," and then writing on the basis of these notebooks. For him the "itch" to write "becomes too strong" as soon as he begins to read that begins to write — "not necessarily at the beginning but somewhere, anywhere. Thereafter, reading and writing go on simultaneously. The writing is added to, subtracted from, re-placed, canceled, as I go on reading. The reading is guided and directed and made fruitful by the writing: the more I write, the more I know what I am looking for, the better I understand the significance and relevance of what I find." He envies people who seem to be able to do that in their heads without paper and typewriter, but he is convinced that every historian worth his salt will do both things at the same time. Input and output go on simultaneously for any critical historian.

I could not agree more. I am also more skeptical than he seems to be that this process is possible without externalization. Writing things down is just as essential for reviewing, connecting and critically examining the information obtained by reading. And this is where software applications are superior to paper and typewriter. And those applications that allow you to carry on "input" and "output" simultaneously and without great effort seem to me the best. and this is where free links—among other things—come in.

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