On Errors, Corrections, History Podcasts, and Academia

Recently, I received a comment from a listener pointing out some corrections to errors or unclear points in previous shows. First, I’d like to state my appreciation for people who take the time to point it out when I’m unclear or incorrect about something. Here’s a list of the corrections:

 

  • I mistakenly stated in a previous episode that Tokugawa Ieyasu’s home province was Mino. It was, in fact, Mikawa.
  • If it was unclear, the story about Takeda Shingen being shot by a sniper is a popular but unverified and likely untrue one.
  • The Japanese armies which invaded Korea in fact made it farther north than Seoul before stalling out in the face of Korean/Ming Chinese opposition.
  • The Satsuma Man referenced in the story of the 47 Ronin was a fictional character later added to the story. The 47 Ronin episode itself is intended to be an introduction to the legend as it is understood, not a blow-by-blow of the truth of what really happened; the latter would be both enormously time consuming and frankly pointless, since the tale is important for how it is remembered and not the literal truth of what it was.
  • Mimizuka, the name by which the mound of war trophies built by Toyotomi Hideyoshi in Kyoto is known, in fact contained noses and not ears. Mimizuka is a misnomer; the original name is Hanazuka.
  • In a previous episode I mispronounced a daimyo’s name: the correct pronunciation is Imagata Yoshimoto (not Yoshitomo).

I regret these errors, and appreciate corrections. That being said, this provides me with an opportune moment to discuss something important for the future of the podcast.

This is, lest we forget, a free podcast that I work on in my spare time. I do not have an unlimited amount of time to devote to polishing episodes; part of the reason I stick to such a rapid schedule is because if I waited until I felt each episode was perfect, I likely would not have even broken the 10 episode mark yet. This is especially true for periods outside my own often stated specialty of modern Japanese history. I do my best to ensure that what I produce is accurate, but the simple fact is that like everyone else who studies history I know certain periods and aspects better than others, and that will inevitably be reflected in what I produce for the podcast. Mistakes will happen, and while I will do my best to minimize them I will never be able to guarantee their absence.

I say this because professional historians with years to polish their work make mistakes as well. I have read countless texts with mistaken citations, typos, or plain factual errors; these things simply happen by virtue of the fact that there is so much to keep track of, and inevitably some of it slips through the cracks — I’ve even seen books that get things as elementary as the year of the Meiji Restoration wrong. This despite editing and pre-press review; the checks in place against errors at academic publishing houses are far more substantial than any I can provide for this podcast, and yet mistakes still get by. There is a limit to what even the best in my field can do, and my limits are considerably greater than theirs. This is particularly true in a field like history, where new research is being produced all the time, and it’s all most of us can do to stay on top of what’s coming out in our own limited fields of specialization.

All this is why it will always be important to cross reference and get information from multiple sources. In case it’s still unclear – and I sincerely hope it is not, since I have made statements to this effect several times on the show – my word is not law regarding Japanese history. You should not take the things I say as gospel, though I hope my track record at this point is good enough that you have confidence in the accuracy of my general frameworks at this point. Indeed, there is literally no way I can provide you with a completely perfect knowledge – or even a totally solid grounding – on any topic with 20-30 minutes of time. This podcast is not a substitution for, say, reading some of the many excellent works on Japanese history out there in print, or taking college courses on the subject. It can act as a supplement or an introduction, and if you are only interested in a subject in passing it can give you some idea of how things fit together. However, if you are really passionate on a topic, then you should engage beyond what I offer; in the age of the internet, doing so is easier than it has ever been in human history.

Get out there and read books on the subjects from the show that interest you. If you’re in university – or even if you’re not – email professors who are experts in subjects you care about with questions (after all, the worst they can do is not respond). Be passionate about history. Engage with it. That’s the entire point of why I’m doing this, and why I enjoy it. To a certain degree, even the history itself is tangential to that goal.

And if you spot any factual errors, please do point them out; you’ll be doing your fellow listeners and me personally a service.

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2 thoughts on “On Errors, Corrections, History Podcasts, and Academia

  1. A professor of mine once saw a paper presentation on how one work of fiction influenced another… but the presenter had gotten the dates of publication switched, and in fact the “influential” piece was published after the story it was supposed to have influenced. This was at a well-respected conference in the field, one that doesn’t admit amateurs.

    If those are the worst mistakes you make in your career as a historian, you’re damn near perfect.

  2. Gwen Moscoe

    I agree with the above poster. You do a GREAT job, Isaac, and for the most part you’re amazingly spot on. With one exception about the Coast Guard (I served, so forgive me) I’ve added comments along the way only where I thought the error, although seemingly minor, impacted the core subject or touched on something particularly controversial. The mortality estimates of the Nanjing Massacre, for example, are a very touchy subject for all of East Asia.

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