Wednesday 30 January 2019

Turn every goddam page (2019)

What is the humanities equivalent of the dedicated type of nit-picking, meticulous measurement and data analysis that is at the heart of every really profound scientific discovery? 

In a superb piece by the American journalist Robert Caro in the New Yorker, we find out that the equivalent for archive based investigative work is the rule that you must turn every goddam page.

This is what one of Caro's first editors told him at an early stage in his career:
He didn’t look up. After a while, I said tentatively, “Mr. Hathway.” I couldn’t get the “Alan” out. He motioned for me to sit down, and went on reading. Finally, he raised his head. “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could do digging like this,” he said. “From now on, you do investigative work.”
I responded with my usual savoir faire: “But I don’t know anything about investigative reporting.”
 Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. “Just remember,” he said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.” He turned to some other papers on his desk, and after a while I got up and left.