Tuesday, May 27, 2014

why Henry Dawson rather than Henry Alline

The revisionist's temperament

By my fifth year in school, I found it almost impossible to resist the urge to publicly expose the difference between cherished myth and actual reality, regardless of the negative effect on my already diminished popularity.

This constant urge to revise and to debunk has made me a sort of historian,  at least by temperament.
Revisionism, however, is much more complicated than it may first appear.

For example, in 1983-1984, I worked hard to raise the profile of Henry Alline a Nova Scotian evangelist from the 18th century .

Alline led a major religious "Awakening" in Nova Scotia during the American Revolution (Nova Scotia then being the area that later became the three Maritime provinces).

This Awakening is a major reason - but not the only reason - why the Maritimes remained apart from the other Thirteen Colonies in their efforts to leave the British Empire , thus allowing the possibility for the nation of Canada to emerge almost a century later.

Most people in the UK, USA or Canada still know nothing of Alline, his writings,  his amazing personal odyssey or his impact on the creation of Canada.

I was thus helping to revise existing notions about Alline in the general population, from the outside.

But, at the same time, I was also inside a vigorous small group consensus , because a lot of historians felt as I did and had already done all the hard archival spade work a few years earlier.

I added not a single new bit of evidence to their case - I merely acted as another cheerleader.

So Henry Alline never grabbed me emotionally at least as a revisionist - only rousing another major part of my personality mix : someone who always like to raise the profile of the underdog.

By contrast, I  quickly discovered enough new information my own - thanks to Google - about Martin Henry Dawson's pioneering penicillin efforts to see that a major revision of the broad historical consensus over wartime penicillin was urgently due.

I saw no small group with an already-formed consensus around Dawson's penicillin that matched my own independent conclusions.

So now  I was emotionally engaged , all thrusters on go ...

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