GRBlundell at a...
GRBlundell at a...
Sat Feb 26 17:26:45 GMT 2005
Before I get going on this, I will start by acknowledging that ultimately we
may have to agree to disagree. But I think that there is a genuine point to
be made about what 'bell historians' should be doing with their time - and
while I am more of an interested observer than a 'bell historian', I haven't
seen anyone else make this point yet.
As far as I can see, this debate has raised 2 issues:
- the weight of the tenor at Woodchurch;
- the purpose of changing Woodchurch's 'recorded' weight.
To take these in turn, despite my comments in my previous email, the
Woodchurch debate may have been historically valuable. John Hyden tells us that
3-3-27 was sourced from a weight written on the bell as delivered. That strikes
me as pretty good evidence that 3-3-27 _may_ be accurate. Please note that I do
not say that it is clinching proof that it _is_ accurate. So the valuable
historic point that this raises is that the Whitechapel tuning book may not be
an unchallengeable source of evidence for the weight of a bell. As I
understand it, the evidence remains strongly in favour of the Whitechapel book - but
in the event of a dispute, there are grounds for some uncertainty.
Moving to whether it is important to change the recorded weight, Chris
Dalton feels that I have missed the point. I'm sorry, but I think the fault is
mine - I did not make my point clear enough, and Chris missed what I was trying
to say. The question is not what the weight of a given bell is, but what we
can do with this information.
My argument is that while correcting the known weight of a tenor may
increase our knowledge, it does not automatically increase our _useful_ knowledge -
knowledge that we can do something with. This is actually a quantifiable
argument: if we discover that the tenor at Liverpool Cathedral actually weighs 2
tons rather than 4 tons, this is significant as it impacts on our
understanding of bellfounding, tuning, hanging and so on. But a change in a bell's
reported weight of under 1% does none of these things. I would argue that as
things stand, our understanding of Whitechapel's work in the early 1970s has only
changed in one aspect from this discussion of the weight of Woodchurch tenor
- we now have grounds to believe that the tuning book may not invariably be
the best source of evidence for a bell's weight.
And this is the crux of my argument, which I did not make clear so Chris
could not address it. History, ultimately, is not about facts. Rather, it is
about how these facts relate to each other, and cast light on the past. If we do
not try to draw facts together, and create a coherent narrative which they
all can sit in, then we are not writing history, or carrying out historical
research; instead, we are following a pursuit very closely related to train
spotting, of collecting facts just for the fun of it.
Let me make it clear, particularly as my last simile is somewhat dismissive,
that the collection of facts is not unimportant. It's a noble and necessary
task to provide the material for historians to work on. But it isn't history,
any more than digging copper ore out of the ground is bell casting. The
facts (the ore) need to be considered and refined, with perhaps some (irrelevant
facts, stones dug up by mistake) being rejected before the final product (the
history, the bell) emerges.
There is real work to be done in bell history. For example, we still have
little more than an outline theory of when and where change ringing emerged, and
how it spread across England. My understanding is that the evidence to
support the East Anglian idea is thin. (I would be delighted to have my ignorance
exposed if I'm wrong on this.) I firmly believe that there is historical
research to be done on the basis of surviving and recorded artefacts and records
that can allow us to form an evidence based theory of were the exercise comes
from - but none of the evidence for this sort of project is likely to be
changed one jot by correcting the weight of a tenor bell by an amount of less
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