Of Revelatory Histories and Hatchet Jobs: Propaganda and Method in Intelligence History

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This article explores a number of issues in the contemporary study of intelligence. These issues are methodological (relating to engagement with ‘primary’ sources), epistemological (concerned with notions of ‘bias’ and objectivity), and presentational (dealing with how scholars locate their work within existing debates). The article will contend that the study of intelligence, largely because of its ambiguous positioning on the borderland between political science and history, has been somewhat isolated from the debates over theory and method that have flourished in the wider historical discipline in recent decades, and that an engagement with such literature will yield commensurate benefits. Finally, the article will explore the place of intelligence history within the wider discourse of ‘popular’ history. Given its potentially sensational content, some intelligence literature is targeted at a ‘popular’ readership, but many of the claims made in authoring, promoting and reviewing such books are highly problematic. Since this is inimical to scholarly rigour, and is unlikely to facilitate wider public understanding of major historical issues, such matters need to be addressed.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)842-877
Number of pages36
JournalIntelligence and National Security
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2008


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