Looking Backwards

History may ultimately be story-telling, but one moral that's lost on most historians is that every picture tells a story, says Roy Porter.

Plunge into the vast majority of books scholars write, and all you'll find are oceans of words. Nowadays so many academics write as if their mother tongue were a foreign language that we breathe a sigh of relief when we light upon one who can express him- self or herself with grace, wit, passion, or even economy.

And so we don't protest – as we should – that only a tiny percentage of scholarly books are illustrated at all; and in these the pictures are generally few in number, bunched together, physically divorced from the relevant text, and incidental to the analysis. Often, we suspect, they were picked by the author after he'd finished writing, or were not even his responsibility at all, being assembled by some picture research department, and supplied with the bare minimum of captions. Why doesn't visual evidence get

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