Teleri (telerib) wrote,
Teleri
telerib

On Research

Let's talk about source reliability again! I just finished a fine, fine case study.


I was in a bookstore, desperate for something to read in the doctor's office, and this was the only vaguely Anglo-Saxon offering. Right from the get-go, it offers several warning signs that this is not something I should probably use as a citation.

First Warning Sign
Right on the cover - it's the title. "The Hidden History"?

Ask yourself: what are the chances that Mr. Bridgeford has, all by himself, teased out a hidden history that has utterly escaped the intensive historical research done on the Bayeux Tapestry since the nineteenth century? That he is in a better position to understand these "hidden allusions" than the people actually living when the Tapestry was new?

Slim. But, to be fair, not impossible. Perhaps Bridgeford had access to X-ray imaging or some other new technique, which can often reveal new information about an otherwise well-studied object.

Second Warning Sign
Also on the covers, front and back: the teaser quotes. They're from major media outlets (newspapers and magazines). Not educational or research institutions. Hm...

Chapter Two: Warning Signs A-Go-Go
Chapter One discusses the Tapestry's colorful history, including its near destruction during the French Revolution and another near-miss in WWII. Very nifty stuff, actually.

Chapter Two begins the author's analysis of the Tapesty, starting with the scene where King Edward the Confessor is talking to Harold Godwinson. It is captioned merely "King Edward."

Warning: The author uses highly colored language: they converse "secretly" and "furtively." On the one hand, the Tapestry is art and open to interpretation. On the other hand, artistic interpretation is not history.

Warning: The absence of evidence is presented as evidence. "If Edward were really sending Harold to the Continent to confirm William's claim to the throne, and if this were really a Norman propaganda piece, wouldn't the caption say it outright?"

Warning: A literal century of research is more or less casually dismissed: "this work will show" an alternate reading. But this work will not show the counter-arguments to itself, nor address them.

Warning: The first of the hand-picked evidence begins to appear in the citation of certain border figures. Yes, papers have been written about the significance of the birds and other figures in the Tapestry's borders. But you don't get to pick out just a few that help make your case and ignore the several hundred others. Similarly, lots of figures are pointing to things in the Tapestry - you don't get to call out just the figures that point to things that help make your case.

Warning Sign: That Tears It
The author supposes that certain letters are actually an anagram for a code for someone's name. Dude, you're reaching.

If Timmy Had Just Gone to the Search Engine, None of This Would Have Happened
Looking up reviews for "1066" gives, in the first page or so of hits:

Amazon.com reader reviews. These are largely positive, because the work is readable. People like to think that they're becoming privy to secret knowledge, and Bridgeford makes a convincing case (if you're not thinking more critically).

But a French historical group is less kind. Their review is more difficult to read than the book, but you'll see many of the objections which popped out in Chapter 2 cited, plus those counter-arguments that the book doesn't address.

Not All Bad
All the same, I will be keeping the book. As the H-France review notes, it's too bad Bridgeford's research practice is so bad in places, because he does make some interesting and valid points (like that the Tapestry arguably flatters the non-Norman French viewpoint over the Norman). For me, it's useful as a scene-by-scene guide to the Tapestry, of which I have a high-res image on CD. I may not always agree with the motives and nuances Bridgeford imputes to each scene, but it does lead one painlessly through the Tapestry's narrative.

The bibliography is actually excellent. Andrew Bridgeford did do extensive reading on the subject, including many primary sources I hadn't heard of before.

Summary
Fun to read? Mostly. Well-researched? Quite. Professional presentation and interpretation of evidence? No. This is sensationalized and aimed at the casual reader, not the researcher. Would I use it as a source? I will mine the bibliography and might use it as a guide to the Tapestry's overall story, but I would not likely cite it in a research paper, no.

Tags: research, sca
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