In my last post, I revised a passage from a high school history book using techniques that Catherine and I teach in our exercises for Europe in the Modern World. I also promised to discuss the specific techniques I used and why I used them.
One of my goals was to get things flowing more smoothly and clearly by improving the passage’s cohesion. Cohesion can be improved through a variety of devices, including what Catherine and I call “anaphoric devices.” Anaphoric devices are words or phrases whose meanings derive from preceding words or phrases–as with the word “there” in “the German princes who ruled there.” In this particular linguistic context, “there” refers back to three phrases in the preceding sentences: “his land,” “this region,” and “patchwork of feudal territories.” So adding “there” helps connect the third sentence with the two previous sentences. But this “there” doesn’t just connect sentences; it also connects content, clarifying Frederick’s political relationships with the German princes. They aren’t just random German princes; they’re princes who rule within Frederick’s territory.
Another cohesive device I’m using is something we’re often told to avoid, namely repetition. Sometimes repetition is tedious, but sometimes it adds clarity. To this end, I’ve replaced the “His” that opens the third sentence (“His forceful personality”) with a repetition of “Frederick” (“Frederick’s…”); I’ve repeated the word “territories” (more on that below), and I’ve repeated the phrase “left” (“whenever he left…”) by adding “Frederick left the country frequently.” This last repetition also bridges a paragraph break I’ve added: that first paragraph, which opens as an introduction to the Holy Roman Empire and closes as an account of Frederick’s exploits outside this territory, is begging to be split in two.
Yet another cohesive device is combining sentences, as I’ve done with the last two sentences of the original first paragraph.
Improving cohesion–and, therefore, flow–improves readability. The reader’s mind is less likely to wander away, as mine did when I first read the original, and she is more likely to appreciate the underlying connections.
Besides highlighting connections, however, I also wanted to highlight what’s most interesting–in particular, the dramatic contrasts. I had two contrasts in mind. First, there’s the contrast between how much control Frederik had over his empire when he was around vs. when he was away. Later on there’s the contrast between mounted knights and foot soldiers.
One way to bring out these contrasts is make them more explicit. That’s why I spelled out a conditional circumstance that in the original is merely implied: “So long as Frederick remained in these territories…” Spelling this out heightens the contrasting condition: “whenever he left…” To further heighten that contrasting condition, I moved it out of what’s now a rather long sentence into a shorter, punchier one: “whenever he left, disorder returned.” Another way to bring out contrasts is to rearrange a sentence so that the contrasts are closer together and expressed with similar phrasing, as I’ve done with “Frederick’s army of mounted knights faced the Lombard League’s foot soldiers” and “crossbow-wielding foot soldiers defeated knights on horseback.”
Yet another way to highlight what’s exciting is to move what’s not exciting into the shadows. To that end, I’ve bracketed it off with parentheses the not-so-titilliating fact that the alliance against Frederick was called the Lombard League.
But what about Frederick’s death by drowning? Why have I also demoted that to a parenthetical? Yes, drowning an usual way for an emperor to die, but bringing it up potentially distracts from the final–and more historically significant–point, which is that the emperor’s death (whatever its cause) contributed to the disintegration of his empire.