This post is for Allison, Graham, and Alan, who know and care.
If I expect to get anything done in my life, I cannot spend my time wandering around the net getting irritated by the dance history errors. But I do pay attention when they arrive by email. So I noticed when a mailing list query about how best to dance "A Trip to Paris" at a Jane Austen ball appeared in my inbox. Happily, I was neither the first nor the last list member to jump in with some version of "That dance is from Walsh, from 1711, and does not belong at a Jane Austen ball!" (Jane Austen lived from 1775-1817, and her dancing days would have started in the early 1790s.)
I did get intrigued by one comment in the ensuing discussion: that the dance had been "republished by Thomas Cahusac in 24 Country Dances for 1794" and therefore might have been danced by Jane Austen. That's a terrifically specific citation -- hurray! -- but I instantly doubted it, since (1) very few dances or tunes of the earlier style were reprinted that late (young people, then and now, not being particularly into dancing their great-grandparents' dances), and (2) I already knew there were other tunes called "A Trip to Paris" and other dance figures printed with them. As another list member pointed out, it's a very generic sort of title.
My immediate thought was that the 1794 publication would be a different tune and different figures and that the person who threw that comment in hadn't actually seen Cahusac and was being tripped up by the modern concept that dances and tunes are specific combinations with a unique name. (Applying modern concepts backward in time is a great way to produce bad history.) I'd have bet money on it, but it's hard to find anyone who'll bet against me on a dance history question.
Still, me being me, it was worth looking into. I've been wrong before. And in the process I made an interesting discovery: we were all wrong!
Come with me on a little research odyssey to see how!