In terms of its narrative logic, my history of the Stanford “canon wars” and their significance in subsequent debates about American higher education currently manifests a sort of triple-quadrilateral structure: four chapters, four different groups of historical actors, four different arenas of discourse. This structure was not something I consciously planned. In fact, to be honest, this was not something I even perceived as an organizing scheme until two days before I was to defend my work. As I said on Twitter, “I’m very excited to have finally discovered the organizing logic of my dissertation. This might come in handy at my defense.” (It did.)
Now while arriving at this ex post facto sense of coherence and order was a bit frustrating (as in, “Oh for pity’s sake — I’m the one who wrote this damn thing and I’m literally the last person to understand how it actually works!”), my guess is that this is not all that uncommon of an experience. In fact, I think that may be how writing history usually works: we are making order out of chaos, but the order of our order is only fully visible in retrospect.
The best way to illustrate what I mean is to tell a story – and this story comes from Herodotus, “the father of history.”