Monday, March 30, 2009

Legislation that wasn't

"Wrong dates, false attributions, and a lot of plain malarky get passed on from generation to generation as scholars plunder one another's footnotes." (From Robert Hume's Reconstructing Contexts: The Aims and Principles of Archaeo-Historicism.)

Post on C18-L by Joel Berson:
2) Writer A quotes from the 1675 diary of a young girl in New England who comments on luxurious, fashionable dress that she had seen displayed in Boston -- 40 to 65 years earlier than other writers put the arrival of fancy clothing. A cites B, who did not document his source and who told me his notes were inaccessible. Fortunately the quoted passage turned up via Google, leading to "A Puritan Maiden's Diary", discovered by Adeline E. H. Slicer and published in _The New England Magazine_ in 1894. (I also found a third writer, C, citing the same passage.) Reading the diary, my ears began to tingle -- it did not sound 17th century even to my untrained ones. Should I accept and use the Puritan maiden's quotation as evidence of the beginnings of a consumer society in Boston in 1675? Fortunately, I also found Mary Beth Norton's "Getting to the Source: Hetty Shepard, Dorothy Dudley, and Other Fictional Colonial Women I Have Come to Know Altogether Too Well", in which she "demonstrates conclusively that it was in fact composed in the late nineteenth century by its nominal editor, Adeline E. Herbert Slicer" (from the abstract). Thus Norton saved me the considerable time and effort I might have spent in "vetting" the diary myself, and at least *I* have not picked it up and repeated it.

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