Oh dear: the Amateur Local Historian is back. He of the portable river. The man who could not see why he should support his theories – and was soundly trounced for it by the real historians. He is back. Or perhaps not quite back?
The fact is, the man called me – a sufficient cause for alarm in itself, seeing that he hadn’t really sought contact since the Moving River Massacre. He called, and told me that perhaps, maybe, perchance, he might be sort of kind of writing another book.
“It’s those battles, you know, 1st century AD. Here about, but nobody knows quite where. Of if they think they do, they’re wrong, because Romans didn’t know their geography, and nobody understands that. I do, though, and it’s all very clear, once you consider the river. And, just as I’ve solved the problem of the river, now I’ve found the battlefields. Do you think it might be worth writing it?”
I closed my eyes and sighed. “And you can prove your hypothesis?” I asked, rather knowing what to expect. “Any archeological evidence of a battle site, or–”
“No need for that,” he predictably scoffed. “It’s no hypothesis at all. It’s fact. Do you know of some historical journal that might be interested?”
“Er… I think those are rather strict about their contributors’ qualifications.”
Before I had a chance to tell him that you can’t do that, he was asking that I read the thing. Or what there was of it. Made wary by past history, I explained that I could have a look and make an estimate for editing work, and gave him my email address…
Next day, very early in the morning, he bicycled by, and handed me a folder. Inside was a single sheet, densely printed in very tiny TNR.
“The introduction,” he explained. “Have a look, and let me know.”
A look I had, and… well. The introduction is a minor grammatical, syntactic and stylistic wreck, presenting what could have been an interesting hypothetical premise as a jumble of unsubstantiated claims. Far from unexpected, but still. I let a couple of days pass, and then Ferragosto happened, and my Reading Week.
On Monday I put together my estimate, and rang my historian. I told him that I found the premise intriguing, but we both know we disagree on method, so I wasn’t going into that. Anyway, the estimate…
For the editing, I explained, which is what I do for a living. Hadn’t he called me about that?
“Oh, no, not at all. I was dithering, when I called. Not sure whether I’d go ahead with it. But I’ve decided now. What I need from you is help to find a publisher.”
I explained that I can’t help him with that – only half a lie, after all – but if he means business with the thing, some editing is truly in order…
“Oh no, don’t worry. I’ve told my grand-daughter. Perhaps she can use it as her dissertation.”
At which my silly conscience made me point out that there are strict rules against presenting someone else’s research as one dissertation… But of course I might have spared my breath to cool the porridge.
“It’s no research at all,” the man explained. “It’s just a statement of things that should be obvious, if anyone used their eyes and brains. It’s all a matter of knowing the land.”
Of course, I thought, as I hung up the phone, a little dazed and also not a little relieved. I still very much wish I could talk some sense into the man, and make him see that one can present potentially interesting hypotheses without starting a blood feud – which goes to show I’m rather hopeless myself… Good thing I won’t have a chance to, after all. I’m sure it’s going to be interesting, but I can happily watch without being entangled, can’t I?