Author Topic: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books  (Read 80091 times)

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Offline Eurohistory

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #60 on: February 28, 2008, 11:36:01 AM »

I am still confused. Can anyone give me a direct answer, was #10 discussed or was it not? I am getting conflicting reports and very vaguely shrouded responses.

From one of the people who attended:

For "The Romanov Bones: A Lingering Dispute”  I commented…: “Lots of great discussion including theories of who Anna Anderson had been if not Anastasia and not Franziska Schanzdowska...” It was mainly interesting speculation on who AA could have been.  There was absolutely nothing controversial about the talk, it was really good as I remember."

Another attendee said:

"Mainly an open discussion on the subject...lots of audience participation and suggestions as to who AA could have been."

I would hope this is sufficient to address your curiosity. And no I cannot post anything other than, the material not available.

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Offline Sarushka

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #61 on: February 28, 2008, 11:45:46 AM »
Sarah,

I think it is self evident that the moment an author "dramatizes" (or dramatises for UK readers) it is no longer non-fiction and becomes Historical fiction.  Honestly, imagine it being exactly the same as all those History Channel shows that "miraculously" have "video footage" of Mark Antony and Cleopatra or Washington at Valley Forge or whatever...dramatization is that.

I agree, but I think the line can be a little fuzzier than that.

The crucial difference as I see it between Radzinsky's style and the dramatization in The Secret Life of Houdini is that the Houdini authors maintain they've used only documented quotes, thoughts, and feelings to build their, shall we say "enhanced," scenes. Nothing is invented.

Radzinsky on the other hand uses his research as a springboard for his imagination. Though he seems to stop short of concocting dialog, he does invent people's actions and feelings. His inventions are based on research and knowledge, but they're inventions nonetheless.

IMO neither approach is appropriate in non-fiction, but I think Houdini's biographers' method of dramatization is at least more honest and accurate than Radzinsky's.
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Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #62 on: February 28, 2008, 11:49:05 AM »

From one of the people who attended:

For "The Romanov Bones: A Lingering Dispute”  I commented…: “Lots of great discussion including theories of who Anna Anderson had been if not Anastasia and not Franziska Schanzdowska...” It was mainly interesting speculation on who AA could have been.  There was absolutely nothing controversial about the talk, it was really good as I remember."

Another attendee said:

"Mainly an open discussion on the subject...lots of audience participation and suggestions as to who AA could have been."

I would hope this is sufficient to address your curiosity. And no I cannot post anything other than, the material not available.

Regards,

Arturo Beéche

Thank you. Does this mean the DNA tests, either of the Romanov bones or the Anna Anderson tests, were not questioned in the speech?

Offline Eurohistory

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #63 on: February 28, 2008, 12:15:14 PM »
I do not remember...too long ago already and frankly not something that I am interested in pursuing any further. I've shared with you all that needs to be said.

regards,

Arturo Beéche
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Arturo Beéche, Publisher
http://erhj.blogspot.com
European Royal History Journal
Kensington House Books
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510/236-1730
books@eurohistory.com
http://www.eurohistory.com

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #64 on: February 28, 2008, 12:16:41 PM »
I do wish people would STOP being specific about FOTR per se.  I brought it up only to demonstrate my point about authors' obligations to their readers.

I find it a bit distressing, personally, that so many people seem to be so "cavalier" about authors relinquishing accuracy in order to make a book "saleable".  This is for me, the defining line between academic publishing, which is devoted to accuracy and vanity press for people who don't want the rigors of academia and just want to peddle books.  Now their is nothing wrong with EITHER side, but readers MUST, IMO, make a strict difference between the two in terms of RELIABILITY for the information contained therein.

I think Janet has demonstrated this point, perhaps inadvertently, but demonstrated it well.

little of which evidence (and none of the discussion AFAIR without checking the final version of the book, which is at home) made it into the final version.

so, the question, of course becomes JUST HOW can a reader KNOW what was left on the cutting room floor? The answer: they can't. As Bear noted, these inaccuracies left forever by editors unfamiliar with the material will become THE NEW FACTS. AS AN EXAMPLE ONLY; for years this forum will have people come in and say "Well, FOTR on pg. 201quotes Vokov saying the Grand Duchesses were NOT left in peace."
Is this, genuinely and honestly ANY SERVICE to those wishing to know the truth?? Is the ceding of historical accuracy to editors/publishers of real value to future generations wishing to know the actual facts?

I accept fully that an author of a non-academic work may give up their right to keep the integrity of their work to the publisher to make the book SALEABLE. BUT, WHERE IS THE RESPONSIBILITY/OBLIGATION FOR THIS, FROM THE PERSON WHOSE NAME IS ON THE COVER AS AUTHOR?

It's all well and good to accept the explanation that the publisher made severe cuts, but does this EXCUSE the resulting distortion of the actual history? Why do the authors feel its "ok" to NOT accept their responsibility to the readers and future historians for the resulting product. THIS is my problem.  Honestly, how difficult could it be for an author to insist that a one paragraph note precede the text saying "Substantial portions of the historical evidence and pertinent record have been omitted due to publication constraints regarding length of this book.  As a result some portions of this text may no longer accurately reflect the historical record."

At least with academic publication, as opposed to the vanity press, one does not have these dilemmas. 

As I am sure you know, there is a vast difference betwen "vanity" publishing - which an author pays for in recognition of the fact that their book is too niche or frankly too poor to sell commercially - and "commercial" publishing which the publisher pays for and which may occasionally (but usually doesn't) result in great riches and fame for an author. From what I have seen and know, commercial publishing is as rigorous as academic, with the author subjected to as many demands and questions by an editor, and usually with less time or space. It is also quite possibly harder to break into.

I do not consider that sacrificing the presentation of specific strands of argument to space constraints is in any way the same thing as sacrificing integrity or responsibility, so long as the author remains true to their OWN conclusions (regardless of how fully presented the arguments leading to theose conclusions may be) and is prepared to answer questions relating to gaps or additional information for interested colleagues or readers.

Perhaps a reader has a certain obligation to trust to the integrity of the writer, too, and to ask questions with a genuine desire to learn. For example, Massie in Nicholas and Alexandra states that Queen Victoria encouraged Alix to accept Nicholas's proposal. Practically everyone with any amount of Romanov knowledge believes this to be untrue; and Massie does not footnote that information. But he didn't make it up as some might rush to conclude. Buried in his bibliography is the source: Narishkin-Kourakin, as it happens, says this was so; and I believe she was mistaken. Yet without extensive knowledge of the sources, few people would be aware of this because an author cannot footnote every single little thing.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2008, 12:25:15 PM by Janet Ashton »
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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #65 on: February 28, 2008, 12:24:43 PM »
[

I do not consider that sacrificing the presentation of specific strands of argument to space constraints is in any way the same thing as sacrificing integrity or responsibility, so long as the author remains true to their OWN conclusions (regardless of how fully presented the arguments leading to theose conclusions may be) and is prepared to answer questions relating to gaps or additional information for interested colleagues or readers.


What about the real life scenario, as evidenced by FOTR as we know know, where, by your own admission Janet, the PUBLISHER was responsible for resulting errors and in fact presenting material contrary to the author's conclusions? Who then should bear the responsiblilty?

Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #66 on: February 28, 2008, 12:27:31 PM »
[

I do not consider that sacrificing the presentation of specific strands of argument to space constraints is in any way the same thing as sacrificing integrity or responsibility, so long as the author remains true to their OWN conclusions (regardless of how fully presented the arguments leading to theose conclusions may be) and is prepared to answer questions relating to gaps or additional information for interested colleagues or readers.


What about the real life scenario, as evidenced by FOTR as we know know, where, by your own admission Janet, the PUBLISHER was responsible for resulting errors and in fact presenting material contrary to the author's conclusions? Who then should bear the responsiblilty?

I did not say that the publisher presented evidence contrary to their conclusions. The publisher asked for stylistic changes and cuts; it was the argument that was sacrificed rather than the conclusions.
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Offline Sarushka

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #67 on: February 28, 2008, 12:54:14 PM »
What about the real life scenario, as evidenced by FOTR as we know know, where, by your own admission Janet, the PUBLISHER was responsible for resulting errors and in fact presenting material contrary to the author's conclusions? Who then should bear the responsiblilty?

I did not say that the publisher presented evidence contrary to their conclusions. The publisher asked for stylistic changes and cuts; it was the argument that was sacrificed rather than the conclusions.

Is this the proper scenario: Stylistic changes are requested. The authors make those changes. As a result of those cuts and changes, a footnote is misplaced, creating a mistake which has since been ascribed to "editorial error."

If that's indeed the case, who then bears the responsibility for correction?

And at what point is an error deemed worthy of the expense of a reprint?
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Offline Puppylove

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #68 on: February 28, 2008, 12:58:37 PM »

Thank you. Does this mean the DNA tests, either of the Romanov bones or the Anna Anderson tests, were not questioned in the speech?

Annie, are you familiar with the Latin maxim "qui tacet consentiret" or "silence gives consent?" Sometimes, not always, when people answer a yes or no question with a comment about failing memory or disinterest, the answer is yes. I'm not saying this is the case here, just something to keep in mind when you come up against roadblocks in your quest for answers.

Jenn
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Offline Sarushka

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #69 on: February 28, 2008, 01:15:17 PM »
Unless the publisher allowes King and Wilson to correct the errors,  the errors will reamain.  And,  the book will be reprinted, again and again with those errors.  This is what is.   And,  if you have ever published anything,  you'd realize that an author loses many rights when he/she sign the dotted line.  How do I know?  Experience.  And,  if anyone tells you differently, then,  they have been some of the lucky ones who haven't had this problem.

Apparently I'm one of the lucky ones, which is perhaps why I have such a hard time swallowing this notion that authors are essentially powerless and publishers are red-pen-waving bullies. I offer my experience as a counter-example.

I've discovered two mistakes in my own book since its publication. Neither of them affect the story's accuracy or integrity in significant ways:

1. In the text, I spelled "smilax" incorrectly. The result was "similax" which coincidentally is also the name of a plant, but not the plant I meant to refer to.
2. In the afterword I attributed the loss of Annie Sullivan's original letters regarding her early work with Helen Keller to a house fire in the 1940's. In fact they were destroyed decades earlier by a leaky roof.

Honestly, I didn't expect errors of this nature to be a big priority. I was fully prepared to wait for the paperback edition for corrections.

My editor's response?
"No problem at all, we can definitely fix both for the [hardcover] reprint, and thanks for catching them.  Just let me know how you’d like the text to read for the lines of afterword in question.  As you suspect, it is best if we can keep type changes to a minimum now that the film the book has been set, so anything you can do to keep the changes simple will be much appreciated, but factual accuracy is certainly our first priority."


This isn't a bitsy publisher -- this is Simon & Schuster. And my book is neither a blockbuster nor a non-fiction tome on a controversial subject -- it's a midlist historical novel for young adults. Yet they're perfectly willing to correct very minor errors.

My point is, it's not always an uphill-backwards-in-the-snow sort of battle. Sometimes it's not a battle at all, and I challenge the notion that my experience is the exception.
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Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #70 on: February 28, 2008, 01:30:24 PM »
Depending on what it is, errors can be a big problem. In Klier and Mingay's "Quest for Anastasia", they wrote that FS and her brother Felix were 'children of the second marriage, less straighlaced and religious than the children of the first family.' This caused many AA supporters to latch on to this as proof that FS and her sister Gertrude were not maternally related so the DNA from Gertrude's grandson, Maucher, should not have matched and therefore the DNA tests were suspect. However, as it turns out, this was incorrect. All five children did have the same mother, FS being the oldest and Felix second youngest. They were technically all 'children of the second marriage' since the father had been married once before but had no children (his wife died, possibly in childbirth of a stillborn baby) So what may have seemed like a simple error as minor as when the letters were destroyed turned into a big stink when it inaccurately reported the relationship of FS and Gertrude as half sisters. No, I do not accuse the authors of doing this on purpose, somewhere, they must have received info they believed to be correct, but were mistaken. Unfortunately, the incorrect info from "Quest" is repeated almost verbatim by Frances Welch in her "A Romanov Fantasy", using "Quest" as her source. See, if mistakes are not corrected, misinformation can perpetuate forever.
« Last Edit: February 28, 2008, 01:32:05 PM by Annie »

Offline Robert_Hall

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #71 on: February 28, 2008, 01:53:06 PM »
That is just the problem, Annie. Once a book is published, there are rarely reprints.  Especially now, as it is very costly and publishers are only going to do extra editions if they are selling J.K. Rawlings or Dan Brown, Stephen King, etc. Sometimes, if a book goes to paperback, the opprotunity  to correct is available, but even that is pretty rare with non-fiction. For most authors on Romanov related topics, it is a one-shot deal. I must have close to 1,000 books on the Romanovs and related topcs here, and each and every one has some sort of mistake. Wheter it be text, picture captions, or a missing or wrong entry on a genealogical chart.
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Offline Janet Ashton

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #72 on: February 28, 2008, 01:54:32 PM »
What about the real life scenario, as evidenced by FOTR as we know know, where, by your own admission Janet, the PUBLISHER was responsible for resulting errors and in fact presenting material contrary to the author's conclusions? Who then should bear the responsiblilty?

I did not say that the publisher presented evidence contrary to their conclusions. The publisher asked for stylistic changes and cuts; it was the argument that was sacrificed rather than the conclusions.

Is this the proper scenario: Stylistic changes are requested. The authors make those changes. As a result of those cuts and changes, a footnote is misplaced, creating a mistake which has since been ascribed to "editorial error."

If that's indeed the case, who then bears the responsibility for correction?



In my opinion whoever made the cut bears responsibility. There may be extenuating circumstances such as time or other pressures on either author or editor, but in an intellectual sense if the author made the mistake of whatever nature the author bears responsibility for correcting it in whatever arena. I don't know any authors who would argue differently, and most would cheerfully own up to errors in the name of improving their own work or credibility.
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Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #73 on: February 28, 2008, 02:06:23 PM »
That is just the problem, Annie. Once a book is published, there are rarely reprints.  Especially now, as it is very costly and publishers are only going to do extra editions if they are selling J.K. Rawlings or Dan Brown, Stephen King, etc. Sometimes, if a book goes to paperback, the opprotunity  to correct is available, but even that is pretty rare with non-fiction. For most authors on Romanov related topics, it is a one-shot deal. I must have close to 1,000 books on the Romanovs and related topcs here, and each and every one has some sort of mistake. Wheter it be text, picture captions, or a missing or wrong entry on a genealogical chart.

Yes, no reprints is a big problem. I once paid $30 for a book that was supposed to list everyone on my Dad's side of the family back 300 years. I was so excited when it came, but looking through it, I noticed that they had cut off my Great Grandfather's list of ten children at one- therefore me and everyone else in my branch of the family were omitted. I called the author and told him I could send him a list of the rest of us; we'd love to be included, too. He told me if he ever did a reprint, he would. It's been 25 years.

Offline Annie

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Re: historical accuracy/ethics question regarding writing books
« Reply #74 on: February 28, 2008, 02:13:11 PM »
Here's another one: what about a library's responsibility to keep inaccurate or outdated info off the shelves? I know most libraries are so big they can never go through every single thing and know if it's accurate or not, but if something is brought to the attention of the library's director, shouldn't he consider this? In a smaller, local library, I noticed that they were cleaing house of many old, outdated nonfiction books. As the director walked past the history section, I showed him "File on the Tsar" and "Hunt for the Tsar" and asked him if there was any chance they'd be put in the book sale soon. If they were, I didn't want to miss them for a buck or less! He said no, because history books, unlike science books, never go out of date (this from the same place that threw out "Fall of Eagles" and "The Romanovs" by Virginia Cowles) I told him that because of science, the DNA tests and the discovery of the Romanov bones, the books were outdated and it would be a shame for a student to use them for a project at school and give incorrect information. He still insisted that history was not like science and the books were valid (even though I insisited science was the reason for it!) The books are still sitting there, as nonfiction. Sigh. I think they should at least be stamped with a disclaimer that the info inside is no longer current or accurate.

I did go to a booksale once at a large library that had tossed out all books- for free- that were outdated because they were written about former communist countries before the iron curtain fell, and also science books so outdated they spoke of hoping to land on the moon 'someday.'
« Last Edit: February 28, 2008, 02:19:39 PM by Annie »