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I am seeking any published writing style guidance or good/best practices to help with writing a paper so as to avoid introducing the taint of what is called "presentism" also known as "historical transposition".

I found this webpage at RationalWiki which gives a good solid definition of the topic, and points out that there are two very different uses of the word, one for historical matters and one for philosophical matters.

Please note: I am NOT interested in the philosophical context of this word (i.e. the contrast to eternalism).

In essence the following excerpt seems most relevant to the topic I am asking about...

presentism is a style of writing or argument that can be fallacious, depending on the circumstances. [...] Another common form of presentism is allowing present-day moral judgments to creep into characterizations of the historical figures. [...] In good scholarly historical work, like in law, it's imperative to separate the consequences of the action from the intent.

Hopefully such guidelines can help writers in two ways:

  1. Show the researcher/writer how to identify subtle forms of presentism and related pitfalls that may creep into the text.

  2. Show how to write a paper in a manner that helps the reader to avoid their own tendencies towards a presentist view.

Presentism is the concept that we as humans have a tendency to interpret history using modern world views by either condemning the past based on modern day societal norms (ex: ridiculing American 19th century indecency laws such as bathing suit requirements) or else discounting the significance of past societal norms that once were but are no longer acceptable (ex: asserting that sending people to debtor's prison can not happen in modern America). There are other more subtle forms however, such as the perception of implicit superiority of the present over the past in general.

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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is about a specific concept in anthropology and history, rather than about academia. – jakebeal Aug 16 '15 at 1:42
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    Respectfully @jakebeal, I am asking about how this concept is applied in academic research for any topic (as a writing technique). As I mentioned above this concept is not exclusive to just Anthropology or History. It obviously could be applied to any subject matter with a historical context such as Medicine, Philosophy, and even Pedagogy and Andragogy. – O.M.Y. Aug 16 '15 at 2:58
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    I have reworded the question hopefully to make it more on topic. – O.M.Y. Aug 16 '15 at 15:22
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    I'm not convinced this is something you should avoid. – hasnohat Aug 17 '15 at 3:08
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    I don't know any formal guidelines about that but I was always told by senior academics to be aware that technology, general knowledge and methods might have greatly improved since the time a given paper was written. In consequences, the appropriate thing to do was to be descriptive about the shortcomings and avoid harsh judgment (reserve it for the plentiful bad contemporary academic output). – Cape Code Aug 17 '15 at 7:24
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Follow links on historiography - there are lots out there. Historiography is both an academic discipline and a name for a text that outlines and contextualises a question with particular focus on how and why and when and where it was approached by whom.

Reading in this area will help you to understand why 'presentism' is an issue in academic writing and how to spot it in your own thinking and writing.

The other advice I can give is to say that if you pay attention to any good academic writing you will see that there are clear indications of what is intended as empirical and what is inferred.

Proper use of references and citations will help you to avoid accusations of being wholly subjective. If you want to get across a value statement why not find a quote from someone contemporary to the event whose opinion mirrors your own. Do not forget to include and consider opinions that contradict your own as well. You can weigh the merits of an argument voiced by others. Of course, ultimately, your findings will be influenced by your own background and social context. Try to be clear and honest with yourself and your audience about when and how this is happening.

  • bikedragon: First, I appreciate the general academic writing advice you offer, it mirrors advice from colleagues. Second, regrettably I cannot accept your Answer for this Question. The discipline of historiography is too expansive and encompasses far more material than just academic writing styles. While I am certain I (and future readers of this Question) would eventually learn from reviewing the material of the field, suggesting the whole of historiography is akin to handing a doctoral thesis for intercultural communication theory to someone wanting to know how to write a persuasive speech. – O.M.Y. Nov 14 '15 at 5:24
  • All that said, the bounty is yours since you were the only one who even tried to answer the question before or after the bounty was posted. – O.M.Y. Nov 14 '15 at 5:27

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