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In the same way we just explored news articles for our story we could also peruse editorials and commentary to find out what the editors were expressingabout these events. These articles are only one resource among many for historians who wish to investigate the impact of historical events on the people who livedthrough them.

Placing the quotes in the "red book" in context

Taken out of context, even the most innocuous of statements can be read as slanderous, vulgar, obnoxious, hysterically funny or deeply offensive. It isalways important to understand the context of a speaker's statements before assuming their intended meaning. When dealing with a work with both a political and comedicagenda, such as the Red Book, it is especially important. The editors of the Red Book openly invite their readers to check up on their quotes and even offer a few resources on pagefive, advising that "The entries in 'The Egyptian Red Book' can be authenticated by reference to the Official Blue Books and Hansard's Parliamentary Debates." Why woulda work of satire provide references for its quotations?

Page 5 of "The Egyptian Red Book"
Let's have a look for ourselves at the context of these quotes and their potential meanings.

Hansard's parliamentary debates

Records of British parliamentary debates are commonly known as Hansard's, after the name of the company which produced thepublication in the nineteenth century. Early records of the debates are not exact transcripts of the speeches, but are still valuable sources for historical research.For a more complete treatment of this resource, please visit our Parliamentary Papers module . When we search the library catalog, we find that Hansard's Parliamentary Debates is available both in the stacks and on microform.
In this section we will locate a specific quote in the print version of Hansard's. If you would like to skip right to a brief tutorial on the microform andlearn how to locate and view your quote in the microform format, visit our microform module .

We have a particularly contestable quote from Mr. Gladstone on page sixteen of the Red Book : "The G. O. M. says:—“It is not a fact that General Gordon has requested HerMajesty's Consular Agent to leave Khartoum. It is not a fact that that measure was essential to their safety, and it is not a fact that General Gordon stated that theonly means of leaving Khartoum would be by Equatorial Africa and the Congo. [It is a fact that the G. O. M.'s fact's were not facts.]"

"The Egyptian Red Book," p. 16
Now, let's find the original quotation in Hansard's to see everything that was said.

Hansard's Parliamentary Debates on the shelf
Once you have located the shelves you will notice that several hundred years of parliamentary debates can take up quite a bit of space. Our quote, dated 24April 1884, is located in the third series, volume CCCLXXXVII.
Title page to Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, 1884
You will notice that the table of contents is divided by both date and topic. The quotesfrom our Red Book come primarily from the Questions section, which is divided by subject matter.
Scanning the page you will notice that Egypt is discussed in several places, the Sudan specifically on page 467.
Questions in Parliamentary Debates, including "EGYPT (EVENTS IN THE SUDAN)--BERBER AND KHARTOUM"
Under the heading "Events in the Sudan" we find a Mr. Ashmead-Bartlett inquiring about a telegram from Gen. Gordon, which he quotes from here: "GeneralGordon expresses his utmost indignation at the manner in which he has been abandoned by the English government, and states his resolution henceforth to cut himselfentirely adrift from those who have deserted him, on whom will rest the bloodguiltiness for all lives hereafter lost in the Soudan."
It would seem from this telegram that Gen. Gordon certainly seems to feel abandoned by his Government. However, we find Mr. Gladstone encouraging hiscolleagues to take into consideration the entire correspondence with Gordon and not just pieces of it out of context:
"MR. GLADSTONE: With regard to the particulars enumerated in this Question, none of them are accurately stated.Although, no doubt, they are the result of the best information at the hon. Member's command. He asks whether it is a fact that General Gordon has requestedHer Majesty's Consular Agent and Colonel Stewart to leave Khartoum. This is not a fact. Then he asks whether General Gordon gave as a reason for that thatmeasure was essential for their safety. That is not a fact; and it is not a fact that General Gordon stated that the only means of leaving Khartoum would be byEquatorial Africa and the Congo. This Question not being accurately framed, I would prefer to leave the matter there and refer the hon. Member to telegramswhich will be faithfully given to the House in the course of a very few days.... The hon. Member should observe... that while we have reason to believe...thatGeneral Gordon is not in receipt of some of our papers, and, indeed, of important telegrams of ours, on the other hand we have no reason to know that weare in receipt of all the telegrams that he has sent. For that reason, perhaps, it is that certain telegrams... have to the Government an isolated appearance,and do not carry with them the full and precise significantion of the documents now in our hands. I would, therefore, prefer that the hon. Member should waitfor a short time until he can form his own opinion of the purport of the telegram, in which General Gordon certainly left it quite open to ColonelStewart and the Consular Agent to leave Khartoum."
Even though Mr. Gladstone seems to be backpeddling a bit, his point is well taken: without the context, the message is incomplete.

As you compare different sources, consider questions such as:

  • What kind of language is used? For instance, The Egyptian Red Book says that Gordon was "assassinated", while The London Times uses words such as "stabbed" and "killed" (Red Book 28 ).
  • What is the tone? Note the acerbic side comments in The Egyptian Red Book , such as "Hicks whole army destroyed. 13,000 massacred. [The Do-Nothing Government slumber on, as their Chief has a cold in his head.]" ( 6 ).
  • How might contemporary readers have viewed these sources? We can glean the attitudes of some commentators towards the satirists who produced the "Red Book" by examining the reviews of the Gladstone Almanack printed on the back cover of the "Red Book". We can also search for published reviews of the pamphlet, look for annotations in margins, and attempt to find journals and other private documents that might contain commentary on this work.

The important thing to remember here is that every quote has a context. Political satire often benefits from the wide range of applicability of someone'sstatement once it is taken out of its context. As historians, it is crucial to our work that we discover and maintain the intended meaning of each statement we includein our descriptions. It can be as tempting for the historian as it is for the satirist to allow a statement to stand out of its context if it fits with ourdesired narrative. Locating the context of the quotes in a work such as the Red Book can be as illuminating of our own responsibilities as for the necessity of therigors of our methodology.

Questions & Answers

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Source:  OpenStax, Studying political satire: "the egyptian red book". OpenStax CNX. Sep 19, 2006 Download for free at http://cnx.org/content/col10290/1.6
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