One way in which the historian may contribute to understanding of the past is to describe the circumstances decision-makers faced at pivotal moments. A clear picture of those circumstances helps to piece together the events that ensued. If we can learn from historical research what choices were available, as well as what choices were perceived to be available, we are also better equipped to assess the actions of individual human beings – and perhaps, if so inclined, to assign credit for beneficial developments or blame for disaster. The historian must address a pair of preliminary questions before beginning the descriptive exercise: whom among the millions of human beings in some way shaping a given course of events should the historian study? And what junctures in time merit that intensity of inspection reserved for our most profound, vital, or disturbing concerns?