Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar

This week’s readings come from the writing of Martin Bruckner. The article in Common Place, “The Materiel Map” is a continuation of the theme of maps as dual-natured objects, both conveying information and serving as aesthetic works. His book, The Geographic Revolution in Early America, is  an exploration of the growth of geographic awareness and publishing in 18th century English America, both before and after the Revolutionary War.Bruckner argues that the way that 18th century Americans conceptualized space is directly linked to the political beliefs that shaped the emerging nation and its identity.

Unfortunately, the writing in The Geographic Revolution in Early America is, in my opinion, some of the worst I have ever seen in a professionally published book. Bruckner apparently believes that all texts can be read and understood in the exact same manner as literature, and proceeds to deeply analyze precise words and phrases to the same extent one would analyze the precisely turned prose of a literary masterpiece. He reads deep layers of meaning from the text, but frankly I feel that more often than not he reads the meaning into the text, rather than from it. If this is the case, than a large amount of his analysis (regardless of his theses accuracy, which I feel are sound) is approximately as useful as that of a scientific study that discards all data that disproves the original hypothesis.

Not all ‘texts’ can be read and understood by the same methods of analysis. A source must be understood in the context of its creation. Reading deep, multilayered meaning into writings in a casual daily journal or an informal letter is as much as a mistake as only reading the immediate and most apparent structure of a work of literature. This is a pity, as the analysis of novels in Chapter 5 is quite well done and examines them in the appropriate manner and context. It just feels out of place for me to apply the conventions of literary analysis to many of the documents that Bruckner is examining. Given that it is Bruckner’s specialty, I could very well be wrong and he could be correct, but for me personally Bruckner’s writing runs back and forth from intellectually puerile and frankly worse than what I would expect from an undergraduate student to being relatively excellent and well done, all within the same book.


2 Responses to Sometimes a Cigar is just a Cigar

  1. rosendof says:

    Very well put. However, do you see no merit in examining non-literary texts through different approaches? Granted, some historians let the thesis guide the sources instead of the other way around, but where does one draw the line between innovation and just plain bad research?

    I like your disagreement though. Not every study should be liked by everyone. Gotta shake things up every once in a while.

  2. Pingback: Comments « History and Cartography

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