D&D General Understanding History: Why Serious Scholarship of D&D Matters

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
Everyone's.

A big problem with the "Scholars" is they are part of the One Side that is obsessed with "documents" as a way to "prove" things. And it does sound sort of great to the people that turn their brains off: "Wow...you found a random document that says exactly what you think and believe! That proves that it is 100% pure, unquestionable FACT!"
Evidently you haven't read most (or possibly any) of the books Snarf is talking about.

You cited a birthday as an "absolute truth". How do you know when your birthday is? You're relying on other people telling you that. And the accuracy of your birth certificate. A document a fallible human being created. They could have written it down wrong. Now, the odds are that they DIDN'T, in part because you're able to check that against other sources (the people who were there, presumably your parents), but that's the exact same thing a researcher is doing with historical facts.

If the guy writing a book has a copy of a letter from Gary Gygax to Dave Arneson, reporting the contents of that letter is absolutely every bit as factual as your date of birth. Now, a given writer COULD lie about those contents or choose to highlight or emphasize part of it to distort or misrepresent the facts, but part of being a smart and critical reader is being alert for that sort of thing.

The idea that we need to read critically is no new revelation. And it's certainly not justification for disregarding all scholarship!

Now, if we don't do a combination of primary source document research and interviewing the people involved, what are we left with? Just interviewing the surviving people. Whose memories we KNOW can't be completely accurate. That leaves us on even shakier ground re: what the truth is.
 
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Conflating the two is not going to convince anyone your critique of scholarship. Nor does your using rhetoric that couches your critique in conspirational terms.
To "convince" anyone of anything, I'd need an audience with an open mind. So...need that first step.

How would you show someone this bit of data? How would we determine that it’s the absolute truth?
Well, though I said this.....facts are tiny bits of true data that are absolutely true. This like when and where an event happened. But that's it, nothing else is a fact.

Well....you could show them in writing or tell them.

You cited a birthday as an "absolute truth". How do you know when your birthday is? You're relying on other people telling you that. And the accuracy of your birth certificate. A document a fallible human being created. They could have written it down wrong. Now, the odds are that they DIDN'T, in part because you're able to check that against other sources (the people who were there, presumably your parents), but that's the exact same thing a researcher is doing with historical facts.
Right...you can go down the rabbit hole that everything is a lie or fake or whatever. A sane person will accept at some point you just have to accept the flawed ways we have are the best that there is...and really, all we have got. And it's nice to have at least a couple people or things that same the same thing: so you don't just have the certificate, but also family members that were there, and even pictures. (and my mom was in the hospital for a whole week for $502...with a charge of $42 for a bottle of aspirin).

If the guy writing a book has a copy of a letter from Gary Gygax to Dave Arneson, reporting the contents of that letter is absolutely every bit as factual as your date of birth. Now, a given writer COULD lie about those contents or choose to highlight or emphasize part of it to distort or misrepresent the facts, but part of being a smart and critical reader is being alert for that sort of thing.
Well, no....see this is my point. Any random thing anyone writes in a letter is subjective and NOT a fact. It's an OPTION. It's personal. Even IF it sounds like they are telling a fact, it might be a 100% lie. Just a simple letter to a boss saying "I got to work at 7:45" could be a lie as they really got to work at 8:15. Just as something is in a littler does not make it a fact or true.

And so many "scholars" will cherry pick with some barnyard targeting whatever words they agree with out of one letter....and then say it's an absolute fact.
The idea that we need to read critically is no new revelation. And it's certainly not justification for disregarding all scholarship!
It is in some circles.
 


Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
To "convince" anyone of anything, I'd need an audience with an open mind. So...need that first step.
Physician, heal thyself.

This thread is about scholarship in D&D history, of which we've seen some good and some genuinely great examples in the last ten years.

You appear to be talking a lot of trash about people and books you don't seem to have read. Either that, or you're just sounding off about some other unspecified and unnamed "scholars" you have a beef with who aren't the topic of the thread. 🤷‍♂️

Well....you could show them in writing or tell them.
Exactly!
Right...you can go down the rabbit hole that everything is a lie or fake or whatever. A sane person will accept at some point you just have to accept the flawed ways we have are the best that there is...and really, all we have got. And it's nice to have at least a couple people or things that same the same thing: so you don't just have the certificate, but also family members that were there, and even pictures. (and my mom was in the hospital for a whole week for $502...with a charge of $42 for a bottle of aspirin).
That's not my point. My point is that your evidence for your date of birth is no more solid than, say, Jon Peterson's evidence of the terms of Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax's royalty contract for D&D. It's the exact same kind of documentation.

Well, no....see this is my point. Any random thing anyone writes in a letter is subjective and NOT a fact. It's an OPTION. It's personal. Even IF it sounds like they are telling a fact, it might be a 100% lie. Just a simple letter to a boss saying "I got to work at 7:45" could be a lie as they really got to work at 8:15. Just as something is in a littler does not make it a fact or true.
Nah, that's just your "rabbit hole that everything is a lie or fake or whatever".

Absent contrary evidence, if, e.g., Gary wrote a postcard to Dave dated Feb 1, 1974 saying that the first two books for OD&D are back from the printer and look great, and he's looking forward to getting the third in his hands shortly, that's established factual documentation for when the OD&D boxed set was almost done being printed.

From that, we can, for one thing, draw a reasonable conclusion that OD&D was assembled and sold in boxed sets starting in February of 1974. That's not the ONLY piece of evidence we have for that date. We have, for example, a surviving advertisement from a newsletter from that January saying people could come play at Gary's house on Sundays and it would be available for sale. Previously, before the postcard came to light, we could estimate that it was probably first available for sale at the end of January. That was always an estimate, and a serious scholar makes that clear in their writing. That this is their best guess. As Peterson did around 10 years ago when first making an estimate for when D&D was first available for sale and thus when the 40th anniversary would be. And then he revised it later when the postcard was found and updated the info we have.
 

Hussar

Legend
Heh. It’s funny you should say your birthday is a “fact”. I lived in Korea for years. In Korea, your birthday is set by the lunar calendar which means your birthday occurs on a different day and date every year. What year were you born? I was born in Heisei 43 (I think - it’s a bit fuzzy). My anniversary is July 29th, or 30th depending on where we are.

Facts are rarely incontrovertible.
 

GreyLord

Legend
On the matter of facts, it's true that with a birth certificate you can have other factors that authenticate that it is correct (witnesses, etc.).

This is where I'd say that, despite it bringing big revelations about things to some, for the most part what I've heard the books say simply back up most of what we already knew. It has some more details and such, but many of the events and items discussed were already known pretty well previously. In that way, you could say the primary accounts from those who were there and were around back up the "facts" that also seem to be coming out.

Of course, it is recognized that there is bias in history writing. I believe they discuss that in Historiography classes these days. In some cases it is preferred that you approach history and it's writing with your bias blatantly shown on your sleeve. You are trying to prove a thesis in many instances...not just a bland neutral retelling of the facts. Even with a more neutral stance though, one should realize that it is HARD not to have a bias in some way.
 

Parmandur

Book-Friend
On the matter of facts, it's true that with a birth certificate you can have other factors that authenticate that it is correct (witnesses, etc.).

This is where I'd say that, despite it bringing big revelations about things to some, for the most part what I've heard the books say simply back up most of what we already knew. It has some more details and such, but many of the events and items discussed were already known pretty well previously. In that way, you could say the primary accounts from those who were there and were around back up the "facts" that also seem to be coming out.

Of course, it is recognized that there is bias in history writing. I believe they discuss that in Historiography classes these days. In some cases it is preferred that you approach history and it's writing with your bias blatantly shown on your sleeve. You are trying to prove a thesis in many instances...not just a bland neutral retelling of the facts. Even with a more neutral stance though, one should realize that it is HARD not to have a bias in some way.
The focus Peterson places on documentary evidence is to cut across gaps in memory thst cone over the decades. A given person's account if what happened 30 years ago in a dispute is by the nature of things fuzziness than contemporary court statements. We all conflate and edit over time.
 

Hussar

Legend
One of the most interesting bits about memory that I learned from a neuroscientist friend of mine. The same parts of your brain light up when you remember something as when you invent something whole cloth. IOW, when you remember something, your brain is basically rebuilding the entire memory in exactly the same way that it would if you were making something up.

Which goes a LONG way towards explaining why memory is such a very poor source and why we place such strong emphasis on recorded evidence.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Supporter
To "convince" anyone of anything, I'd need an audience with an open mind. So...need that first step.
Assuming your interlocutors have closed minds is rarely a good launching point for a convincing assertion. It might even close off some otherwise receptive minds.🤷🏾‍♂️

And the fact that someone doesn’t agree with you doesn’t necessarily mean their minds were closed. You could be unconvincing. Or incorrect.
 
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