Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Ted White Q&A: On Writing a Synthetic Work

Q: Unlike a lot of your earlier work, this volume is partially synthetic: you reference reading and profiting from the works of a great many other scholars. Given the highly individualistic character of much of your other work, how did you like the shift? 

A: One of the reasons I put off this project after signing a contract (I wrote three monograph-style books between the 1990s and when I turned to it in earnest) is that I worried about how comfortable I'd be with the technique of narrative synthesis, something I hadn't done in a book written from scratch since the first edition of The American Judicial Tradition (1976). I found out, however, that synthetic work isn't necessarily incompatible with a revisionist analysis of the relationship between law and historical themes. Unlike the first edition of the American Judicial Tradition, where in many chapters I was seeking to distill existing specialized work on judges for more generalist audiences, in this instance I assumed a greater audience familiarity with the scholarly "conventional wisdom" on the topics I chose to cover, and sought to revise conventional understandings where current work suggested they were in need of revision.

3 comments:

Alfred Brophy said...

This talk of synthesis reminds me of The Marshall Court and Cultural Change -- which is my favorite of White's books and one of my two or three favorite works of American history. It synthesizes a ton of literature on republicanism and what we're now calling the market revolution. I know that this series of posts is focused around the Law in America, but I'd be most interested in your thoughts on Marshall Court and Cultural Change. Hard for me to believe that it's been out, what, 24 years. Seems like it may be time for a retrospective on it and how it's influence the writing of constitutional history and also history of the period 1810s to 1830s.

Tomiko Brown-Nagin said...
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Tomiko Brown-Nagin said...

It sounds like you'd be the perfect editor for such a retrospective, right, Al? I've passed along your comment to Ted.