Appendices

I found Appendix 1 a strong addition to The Presence of the Past.* In a work that reports the results of a survey, it’s important to see how the survey was conducted. I’m not in a position to evaluate the methodology (though it seems reasonable, to my untutored eye), but people with the relevant expertise in statistics, survey techniques, etc., could (and, given the longevity and stature of the book, presumably have done).

It’s especially important to include such information when working on the squishy end of the social sciences. Quantifying qualitative experiences and finding patterns in reams of transcripts has a subjective component; any enumeration of the procedures followed backstage serves as a reminder that there is, in fact, method. In a survey like this, the plural of anecdote is data. An explanation of how and why decisions were made—focusing on the Oglala Sioux as representative of the American Indian perspective, or abandoning plans to pursue an Asian American sample—provided insight not only into the results obtained, but the authors’ goals. They did not have the resources to do everything, but could explain the choices they made and outline the potential value (and cost) of the road not taken. The mention of 1994 events (e.g. Schindler’s List and Prop 187) which may have had some impact on the results was welcome, not simply because it provided additional transparency but because it (properly) rooted the survey in a specific moment in time.

I did enjoy the fact that the survey as performance/moment/artifact illustrated some of the themes discussed. The construction of the survey was unusually collaborative, with the interviewers offering feedback, taking an active role in the survey’s development and given a certain amount of freedom to stray from their script. This lead to more personalized interactions, precisely the sort of thing that most engaged the emotions and interest of popular historymakers.


* Always Read The Appendices is one of the Things I Learned From Dune, subsequently reinforced by The Lord of the Rings.

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