So I just realized — the debate in the world of digital photography of raw vs. jpg for file format is the same debate that we have in ecclesiastical history and historical theology.
Raw files are not necessarily image files. They are more like data files that contain information not always immediately visible in the image. Adjusting the balance of what you see in the shadows and highlights, the blacks and whites, brings perspective and clarity (photography pun) to the scene and enables us to see a dynamic range closer to what would see in person. This kind of processing doesn’t add anything to the photo. It brings out the information in the shadows and reduces the highlights that can obscure other details. Raw files enable us to see more of the scene than a compressed jpg. It is unbiased data waiting to be processed.
Ecclesiastical history as an academic discipline provides the cultural and socio-historical data of Christianity across the centuries. Good historians shoot in raw. They capture the data no matter how obscure it may seem. They do not add anything to the scene. Church history should not be a compressed jpg snapshot that merely captures the historian’s perspective. This approach requires quite a bit of post-processing to bring out what’s hidden in the shadows and to see past the prominence of the highlights. Historical theology is groundless without good, unbiased, data.
What this means is that good historians who use technology to capture, store, and process historical information are like those annoying gear-hound photographers who take their cameras everywhere. Much like this post, actually.