I have a bit of a technical question about constructing narrative while writing as a historian (I guess it also applies to other humanities).

This never really occurred to me as an issue during undergrad and graduate school while writing my thesis, but I have noticed now as I revise my thesis that at times I write sentences that contain both the factual events contained in the primary source I cite in the footnote at the end of the sentence and my interpretation of the source I cite.

For example, if I describe the relation between Event A and Event B, I might first describe the general context. Then follows Sentence A that describes Event A and cites Source A describing Event A. Then follows Sentence B that says:

In reaction (to Event A), Event B happened⁴.

Where Footnote 4 describes Event B.

My question about this example is about the two words “in reaction”. The source I cite at the end of Sentence B does only describe Event B. I derive the connection between the two events and that Event B is a reaction to Event A from the general context. Thus “in reaction” is my interpretation of the causality between the two events.

Now if one is really squeamish I guess one could say that by not separating “in reaction” from Sentence B I mix interpretation and factual evidence and some readers could be misled that the source I cite at the end of Sentence B also includes that Event B happened in reaction to Event A.

The same kind of situation seems to happen at times in my writing when I have a sentence that is built like this:

[Interpretation], [relative clause with factual evidence] [Footnote with evidence for events/facts in relative clause].

My question is whether this style of writing is acceptable at all? It certainly does not occur often in my writing, but it does at times. No one who has read my writing really has ever said anything about this. Although it is hard to check the writing of other historians with regards to this question, as I do not have the sources to check in most cases, I have noticed that other historians do this kind of mixing at times as well (some even seem to simply cite sources at the end of paragraphs that clearly contain both factual statements and interpretation). I also wonder what having to interrupt sentences to clearly separate interpretation and facts all the time would do to the flow of the narrative.

Still this is a concern now, and I would like to know how to approach this dilemma. Is there a convention or best practice? Is mixing interpretation and evidence acceptable, is it sloppy writing or is it completely unacceptable?

Crosspost on Reddit

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