Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Detective Story

Any lover of mysteries knows the joy of tracking down the murderer. So it is with writing history. Historians are detectives. Years ago, I wrote a book on the history of the Arizona Right to Work law. It began as a paper in a legal history class and by the time that class was finished, the subject had its hooks in me and I kept following lead after lead. 

The process was as intriguing as the subject. [Don't tell me that book isn't on your coffee table!] I'd interview one witness and he - all of them were men - would point to another. Some witnesses, of course, were treasure chests of information. One old newspaper reporter and publisher would have been a book all by himself but he managed to be both fascinating and cautious. "Many of my stories would hurt people," he said, begging off an offer to assemble his recollections. He was right, of course, but when you are young and eager to find tantalizing bits of information, such inhibitions seem quaint.

Later, I found a similar thrill in tracking down stories both as an investigator and a management consultant. In the latter role, I am called in to detect what is behind various management problems. Notice I said what and not who. With experience, I've found that although personalities can make a huge difference, you always want to determine the design that shapes the people. Often, the process is the culprit.

But the process of detecting the story - or the story behind the story - can truly be addictive.

Hmm, let's follow this and see where it leads.


Dan in Philly said...

I think all true historians and detectives and philosophers both. The study of history lends itself to asking the basic questions "Why? Why then? Why in that way?"
"Study history, study history. In history lies all the secrets of statecraft." Winston Churchill

Michael Wade said...


Absolutely true!