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Augustine in the Cell botticelli42

Precision with Regard to the Small Things and Being an Historian

By Michael A.G. Haykin–

How does one become an historian? Well, the path is not an easy one. But then the learning of no skill or art is easy. It does not come through merely much reading. Nor does it come through merely much writing. There have been all kinds of journal-writers—currently prolific bloggers—but neither much writing nor much reading in themselves doth an historian make. There must be reading and there must be writing, but being prolific in either or both does not guarantee good history.

There must be discernment. There must be reflection. But before anything else there must be an attitude that takes time to be careful and precise, an attitude that is revealed in the small things of the craft. In fact, how one tackles those small things reveals the ability to handle the larger. If, with regard to the small things, the seemingly unimportant things, there is simply the desire to get them out of the way as soon as possible to make way for the truly “significant things,” the faculty of a good historian is lacking. Such an attitude is not perfectionism—an impossibility in this life for fallible humanity—though it is the desire to make everything written the best and most precise it can be.

Without precision, the faculty of taking care to be exact and right, the interest in details, there can be no good history-writing. If such a faculty is naturally present, it must be honed. If it be not present, it must be learned.

Michael A. G. Haykin is Professor of Church History and Biblical Spirituality at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His most recent book is Rediscovering the Church Fathers: Who They Were and How They Shaped the Church (Crossway, 2011). Haykin is the director of the Andrew Fuller Center for Baptist Studies, from which this post was original taken.

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