For the Wall Street Journal, William Anthony Hay reflects on Bernard Bailyn’s Sometimes an Art: Nine Essays on History.
Does the writing of history stand alongside literature in the realm of culture or within the very different sphere of social science? Bernard Bailyn implicitly returns to that pivotal question throughout “Sometimes an Art,” a collection of essays that takes up broad thematic topics (e.g., trends in modern history) and narrower ones as well (the British Empire’s cultural provinces). It is clear throughout the collection—in its method and in the author’s reflections on his academic discipline—that the task of interpreting the past requires not only a careful search for evidence but also “a kind of literary imagination.” Mr. Bailyn notes that, “like a novelist,” the historian must conjure “a nonexistent, an impalpable world in all its living comprehension, and yet to do this within the constraints of verifiable facts.”
Those interested might also see Gordon Wood’s recent review of Bailyn for the Weekly Standard.