Book Review: C.G. Crump, History and Historical Research (Routledge, 1928)

In my ongoing quest to read every history methods book ever printed, I’ve come across this fairly rare little book by C.G. Crump. Crump (1862-1935) sounds like a 19th century English writer even into the twentieth century. His writing is clear, precise, but not overly dense with ideas.

In some ways, the book is typical of the guides to methods from the first few decades of the century. It includes some advice on the practical aspects of choosing a subject, taking notes, finding materials and building a thesis. Yet, is refreshingly original, not condescending or full of jargon and unnecessary historiographical lists, like so many other works in this field. Much of it is outdated, since it is speaking about visiting archives in England in an earlier period, yet some of the advice is timeless, and the personalities of researchers and archivists the same.

It is the first chapter, titled “The Enquiring Mind” that struck me for its parallels to some of the arguments I developed in my own book, Creative Historical Thinking.   In particular, Crump talks about the difference between systematic minds and disorderly minds. Each has its advantages, he notes, and everybody is a mixed of system and disorder. But the “mind must be free to experiment” he writes, and “learn to deal in relations rather than in isolated events” with “as many theories” as possible to answer questions, and a willingness to discard theories when they have served their purpose or don’t fit the evidence.

The systematic mind, always seeking order, is disturbed by new discoveries that challenge their mental structures.

The disordered mind, again, is like the creative mind I write about. ” His habit of mind has forced him to be continually turning over his stock of events; he has been compelled in sheer self defence to establish all sorts of queer devices to keep his knowledge in any kind of control. Flexibility of mind, the invention of odd clues to the labyrinth of history are second nature to him. Events of the most diverse kind lie side by side in his memory without shocking him; accidental juxtaposition is always a possible source of new views to him.” (20)

In other ways Crump makes statements that I developed independently. For example:


1). There can be no rule or list of books that one must read. (78)

2.) Reading outside of the standard list will lead you to do original work (71)

3.) Metaphors as essential for historical thought. Crump uses ones a number of metaphors in this sentence: “An orderly and classified collection of facts and theories, a sort of mental museum and card-index combined, his mind resembles a rag-bag into which its owner has put all his property valuable or worthless, tattered, or whole. ” (15) And on the next page, he talks about a “mind picture of history” something like my “mental timelines” but in three-dimensional form.

4.) Intentional humor and irony in the book. Page 133 includes the only sentence with a typo: “This man will makes as many errors or more, and his errors will be of a more flagrant kind.”

5). Inspiration can come from all corners, especially found in foreign language works. “For only by keeping a door open to all possible impressions can the beginner avoid the danger than research many dull his mind and destroy his imagination.” (160)

6). Historians are made in the archives, or at work sorting through materials at their desks, not from reading manuals.  Fittingly, Crump describes this with an analogy: “Let us suppose that a man who had never walked and who was about to begin to walk, should be presented with a treatise on walking in which all the mechanism of balance, of the action of the muscles and joints, and of the means of preserving the intended direction of motion was descried in detail. It would not be surprising if after reading it, the learner should pronounce that walking was impossible, for him at any rate, and tat he would abandon the attempt to learn how to do it The answer would be ‘you cannot learn how it is done until you have learn to do it.’ The same answer is applicable here.”

Fantastic, Mr. Crump. Should you visit the 21st century some time, or I the early 20th, I would like to shake your hand.



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