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ColoradoGuy
03-13-2009, 10:16 PM
One of my favorite blogs is a joint effort among nine people. Some are historians, others are philosophers. They call it "The Edge of the American West" (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/). It's about many things, reflecting the interests of its contributors. (One recent piece was a deconstruction of Watchmen (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/watching-watchmen-how-unfilmable-novels-become-unwatchable-films/).) Today's offering (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/against-self-polishing/) is about the nature of historical truth. Its essential argument is not a new one -- historical objectivity is not really possible because reality is a slippery thing and whatever we observe we do through our own mental filters. In fact, pretensions to "factual" objectivity are just another form of bias. Of course this all sounds like typical post-modernist stuff. The fun part about the piece is that it is based on essays by Carl Becker appearing in The Atlantic in 1910. Becker's title was "Detachment and the Writing of History." The blog post quotes extensively from them.

So even in the middle of the era of "scientific history," (say, the late 1800s to WW II), there were rumblings such a fanciful thing is not attainable. The historian cannot, and by implication should not, detach from that which he or she is studying and writing about. The important thing is to recognize this, even embrace it, and be honest with the reader about it.

It's a good piece, and the blog is interesting to visit now and then -- new stuff goes up frequently.

Higgins
03-13-2009, 11:01 PM
One of my favorite blogs is a joint effort among nine people. Some are historians, others are philosophers. They call it "The Edge of the American West" (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/). It's about many things, reflecting the interests of its contributors. (One recent piece was a deconstruction of Watchman (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/10/watching-watchmen-how-unfilmable-novels-become-unwatchable-films/).) Today's offering (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2009/03/13/against-self-polishing/) is about the nature of historical truth. Its essential argument is not a new one -- historical objectivity is not really possible because reality is a slippery thing and whatever we observe we do through our own mental filters. In fact, pretensions to "factual" objectivity are just another form of bias. Of course this all sounds like typical post-modernist stuff. The fun part about the piece is that it is based on essays by Carl Becker appearing in The Atlantic in 1910. Becker's title was "Detachment and the Writing of History." The blog post quotes extensively from them.

So even in the middle of the era of "scientific history," (say, the late 1800s to WW II), there were rumblings such a fanciful thing is not attainable. The historian cannot, and by implication should not, detach from that which he or she is studying and writing about. The important thing is to recognize this, even embrace it, and be honest with the reader about it.

It's a good piece, and the blog is interesting to visit now and then -- new stuff goes up frequently.

As a trained historian (with BA in History to prove it), I always find people's eagerness to claim an exceptional amount of subjectivity in historical analysis very suspicious. People apparently want what they like to call "facts" simply so that they can ignore 99% of what has actually happened. There's that 1% that somebody might be expected to have heard of...and thank god the rest is just unimaginable stuff. BUT WAIT there's even better news! Even that 1% is "subjective" so they can ignore that too!
Basically, in my opinion, History is 100% absolute, solid objective stuff and the idea that it is "subjective" is just an excuse for knowing nothing about it.
For example: Until recently it was a "fact" that Pope Urban II "preached" the first Crusade. It was a fact because nobody cared about seeing if it was true.
Well it never really happened, but is that a symptom of "subjectivity" or of catastrophic and fantastically irresponsible lack of interest?

ColoradoGuy
03-14-2009, 04:00 AM
Higgins, I have to disagree. I've dabbled a little in history myself -- I've got a history BA, a history MA, and about half the needed credits toward the history PhD I never finished. I think a very large amount of history is subjective. Among the welter of facts, the historian chooses which to seize upon and emphasize and which to discount. So it's not the facts themselves, but what one does with them. And that process of "doing something" with them begins immediately.

robeiae
03-14-2009, 05:42 AM
Well MY version of history isn't subjective...;)

But Becker?!? You did that just to piss me off, didn't you CG?

ColoradoGuy
03-14-2009, 05:44 AM
Well MY version of history isn't subjective...;)

But Becker?!? You did that just to piss me off, didn't you CG?
Not exactly. But I knew you'd be amused.

robeiae
03-14-2009, 05:55 AM
Aside from Fischer, there's another historian whose take on history always impressed me. Read him for historical methods. English, I think. But I can't seem to remember his name. I want to say it's Carr.

Certainly, not Novick and not Hayden White. Blech.

ColoradoGuy
03-14-2009, 06:33 AM
Aside from Fischer, there's another historian whose take on history always impressed me. Read him for historical methods. English, I think. But I can't seem to remember his name. I want to say it's Carr.

Certainly, not Novick and not Hayden White. Blech.
E.H. Carr, author of What is History. It's interesting, but considered a little old-fashioned among the historical cognoscenti.

robeiae
03-14-2009, 06:43 AM
E.H. Carr, author of What is History. It's interesting, but considered a little old-fashioned among the historical cognoscenti.
Yep, that's it. Old-fashioned? Harrumph.


But, as long as you agree that The Return of Martin Guerre is NOT history, we shouldn't have any major issues.

ColoradoGuy
03-14-2009, 07:33 AM
I rather like Novick (The Noble Dream -- I haven't read his book on the Holocaust). But then you knew I would. Rob, you'd probably like Oscar Handlin's semi-rant Truth in History.

Ruv Draba
03-14-2009, 09:06 AM
The core of the argument appears to be a confusion between what a fact is and how people use them in their minds.

A fact is or should be by its very nature an independent, ultraportable, reverifiable observation. If I say that at close of trade yesterday, the NASDAQ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASDAQ) was reported at 1,431.50 then anyone can check this. Anyone can query how the number was calculated or whether it was reported accurately but the statement of fact that this was the number reported remains verifiable.

But facts begin to acquire additional significance in our minds if we use them for evidence. We begin to add them to other facts, model the results, test theories, look for other facts... that can lead us to true or false conclusions. Some of those may attach to the original facts and colour them -- but only for ourselves.

What we may do with a fact in our minds no more changes it than illuminating the letter 'a' changes its sound. The very reason that facts are so darn useful is that opinion doesn't alter their nature -- only how they're used.

Hrm.. and as for the critique of Watchmen, for all its protestations it still read as nerdrage (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nerdrage) to me.

ColoradoGuy
03-15-2009, 01:59 AM
The core of the argument appears to be a confusion between what a fact is and how people use them in their minds.

A fact is or should be by its very nature an independent, ultraportable, reverifiable observation. If I say that at close of trade yesterday, the NASDAQ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NASDAQ) was reported at 1,431.50 then anyone can check this. Anyone can query how the number was calculated or whether it was reported accurately but the statement of fact that this was the number reported remains verifiable.

But facts begin to acquire additional significance in our minds if we use them for evidence. We begin to add them to other facts, model the results, test theories, look for other facts... that can lead us to true or false conclusions. Some of those may attach to the original facts and colour them -- but only for ourselves.

What we may do with a fact in our minds no more changes it than illuminating the letter 'a' changes its sound. The very reason that facts are so darn useful is that opinion doesn't alter their nature -- only how they're used.

Hrm.. and as for the critique of Watchmen, for all its protestations it still read as nerdrage (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=nerdrage) to me.
Well, I suppose that's my point. As a one-time toiler in the land of historians, it always appeared to me that the little nuggets of verifiable facts of the sort you mentioned constitute really a very small part of the historical enterprise.

All would agree that grand theories are debatable issues. We should use a collection of facts to argue these things, but of course even then we pick and choose among the facts. But it's in the vast zone between agreed-upon facts (e.g. what the Dow Jones was on a particular day) and the grand conclusions we draw from them where the true haziness lies. And that hazy zone is where historians work day to day. Consider as an example the one Robeiae and I argue about from time to time regarding the relationship of the New Deal to the Great Depression.

In the Great Depression debate, the unemployment rates during the period 1932-1942 are a bone of contention. FDR bashers have made a big deal of how unemployment was still very high throughout the Depression. They use this graph http://i82.photobucket.com/albums/j244/ColoradoGuy/unemployment.jpg

to show that, although it steadily came down from a high of 25% in 1933, it was still 15% in 1940. Sounds pretty bad. But if you tease apart those statistics, you find that the person who compiled them did not regard government workers (including those getting work with the WPA, the CCC, and all those other New Deal programs) as employed. To me, employing these people was a major point of the FDR program. If you count them in, you get this graph.http://i82.photobucket.com/albums/j244/ColoradoGuy/employment2.jpg
It looks a lot better, although Hoover's reign still looks pretty bad. Of course unemployment was still 10% in 1940, but these days that isn't looking so bad, especially since the government now doesn't count as unemployed those who are no longer looking for work.

And of course we don't even know the vast majority of historical "facts." We're pretty sure we know Pope Urban II gave a sermon in 1095 that is said to have launched the First Crusade -- that's what we teach students as true. We know he gave the sermon because enough people wrote about it and we have irrefutable evidence that the First Crusade happened. But most of the "facts" connecting the one to the other consist of what people wrote in chronicles, some of which conflict with each other.

So yes, there are irreducible bits of data that are verifiable. But those things are a very small part of what history is. That's my point, and Becker's too.

(Graphs courtesy of Eric Rauchway's post here (http://edgeofthewest.wordpress.com/2008/10/10/very-short-reading-list-unemployment-in-the-1930s/))

dolores haze
03-15-2009, 02:59 AM
E.H. Carr, author of What is History. It's interesting, but considered a little old-fashioned among the historical cognoscenti.

Carr's 'What is History?' was still required reading when I graduated in '98.



But, as long as you agree that The Return of Martin Guerre is NOT history, we shouldn't have any major issues.

Oh? Why is it not history?


I guess I'm of the school of thought that believes there are some verifiable facts, but the rest is theory, interpretation and opinion.

robeiae
03-15-2009, 08:46 PM
Oh? Why is it not history?
I'm poking CG a little.

But the book--which I enjoyed, btw--is laced with assumptions that are a product of much more modern concerns than those of 16th century French peasants.

Robert Finlay, in "The Refashioning of Martin Guerre," laid it all out fairly well.

Davis' response to the criticisms, in "On the Lame," was--imo--quite lame.

Historical novel, perhaps. But history? I think not.

Ruv Draba
03-16-2009, 02:13 AM
As a one-time toiler in the land of historians, it always appeared to me that the little nuggets of verifiable facts of the sort you mentioned constitute really a very small part of the historical enterprise.Yes -- a lot of history seems to be about 'why' more than any other question. But 'why' is the most metaphysical of all our questions. From an engineer's perspective -- but also from a skeptical, humanistic perspective -- I think that 'why' questions are nearly always too broad. I want to reduce them to some specific, practical question, like:

How can I repeat it?
How can I avoid it?
How can I exploit it?
How can I prevent others exploiting it?
How can I take credit for it?
How can I lay blame for it?Grand theories that don't explain their self-interested motives should make us suspicious from the outset. If we ask about (for instance) the 'causes' of the Crusades, which answer you find may depend on what motivates the question. We might (initially at least) get quite different, inconsistent answers and multiple useful theories.

On the other hand, if we tend our facts carefully -- collect them, catalog them, test them, refine them, those facts will remain in the face of our differences. If we share and test our suspected facts then over time our ignorance, self-interests and delusions get exposed and our answers gradually converge toward truth. But the truth is revealed by our collective investigation; it's not owned by a particular position or factional interest.

As a vote of one, I find that eminently acceptable. We are servants of truth; the truth is not our servant. It's only the more zealous idealogues (including pomo zealots whose ideology is 'no ideology') that seem to have a problem with this arrangement.

Higgins
03-17-2009, 08:10 PM
I think a very large amount of history is subjective. Among the welter of facts, the historian chooses which to seize upon and emphasize and which to discount. So it's not the facts themselves, but what one does with them. And that process of "doing something" with them begins immediately.

So history is "subjective" because there is such an unusually large area of "objective facts" for it to cover? It seems to me to be a strange practice to emphasize that some area of knowledge must be "subjective" (and apparently more so than say journalistic commentary on sporting events) precisely because it covers such a large area of pure objectivity. To me the immense size of the objective objects of history suggests that the idea that there is something subjective going on is just an excuse for having little idea what is involved in working with objective historical objects. The idea of the "fact" and the idea of the "subjective" are flip sides of the same coin, a coin that suggests that there is in fact an objective measure of what needs to be known and what it is useful to know about history. The idea of "facts" and ""subjectivity" is actually internally contradictory since they both imply some superobjective standard paradoxically only founded in the subjective choice of what is of epistemelogical value and that this value relates in some subjective way to the very subjectivity that creates it. This is the sort of circular, tail-chasing logic that a definite review of the relation of epistemelogy and history can easily short-circuit. Or to put it another way: an infinite regression of tail-chasing subjective judgements is not self-validating, but any detour into the origins of such judgements (ie the objective realm of historical objects) is self-validating.

Higgins
03-17-2009, 10:03 PM
Yes -- a lot of history seems to be about 'why' more than any other question.

In a good historical analysis the whys and hows interrelate, ie different types of causes and mechanisms are shown to have interacted in various ways.

Guilmartin's brilliant work Gunpowder and Galleys is a clear example of how this kind of analysis works. Guilmartin shows how the social structures of three different mediterreanean empires (The Spanish, the Venetians and the Turks) had major impacts on how their galley fleets and naval tactics worked. He also shows some feedback from the fleet structures into the political and social structures and situates this all in relation to the fluctuations of technology and the fortunes of war.

http://www.angelfire.com/ga4/guilmartin.com/

Higgins
03-18-2009, 08:59 PM
In a good historical analysis the whys and hows interrelate, ie different types of causes and mechanisms are shown to have interacted in various ways.

Guilmartin's brilliant work Gunpowder and Galleys is a clear example of how this kind of analysis works. Guilmartin shows how the social structures of three different mediterreanean empires (The Spanish, the Venetians and the Turks) had major impacts on how their galley fleets and naval tactics worked. He also shows some feedback from the fleet structures into the political and social structures and situates this all in relation to the fluctuations of technology and the fortunes of war.

http://www.angelfire.com/ga4/guilmartin.com/

Just quoting myself and answering myself:

From:
http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=126280

It may be that all answers to the question of whether we have learned ("philosophically") anything from history as events and/or narrative explanations of events (ie "scientifically") are equally appropriate and/or rational.
One could take the Heideggerian-Freudian no learning position (ie "Aren't we there where we are?" da and da again over and over: dasein to the fort-da game) or the inevitable progress idea concealed in the Derridaean-Gertrude Steinian not-there: "there is no there there"...ie one has to progress because there is no way to get back to an original locus of non-progression.
There is an impossible Lacanian middle road: "Sometimes you are there (in the non-progressive primordial oozy there) and sometimes you are not (I can be exiled to nostalgia for an impossible otherness of the there of all beginnings)"....

Do the "facts" of progress progress along with the "facts" of non-progress?

Ruv Draba
03-18-2009, 10:05 PM
In a good historical analysis the whys and hows interrelate, ie different types of causes and mechanisms are shown to have interacted in various ways.Whys and hows always interrelate because of the way our motives work. It's just that the truth of the how is not contingent on the why, whereas the relevance of the why depends on both how and our motive for asking why in the first place.

What I also think you're saying (and certainly the very interesting excerpt from Guilmartin's book displays this) is that why and how arguments also interpenetrate, which of course can sometimes make it hard to analyse the truth of the how bits from the relevance of the why bits.

In Guilmartin's excerpt I learnt a lot about how crossbows and recurve bows and early cannon came to be used in both land and sea warfare, and how they were used differently in different contemporaneous cultures. I can't say whether those opinions are truth or not, but I can check the references and trace the opinion back to fact, and eventually if I'm satisfied that Guilmartin did his job then I'll treat his opinion as fact until someone comes up with a credible challenge.

I also learned why, if I were a Turk, Guilmartin thinks I might continue to exploit the bow in the presence of crossbows, and why, if I were a European, I might prefer long bronze cannon throwing iron balls to short bronze cannon throwing stone balls.

In practice while Guilmartin's 'why' arguments are plausible I think that they're also much less robust than his 'how' arguments. Here's why.

Guilmartin's 'why' arguments constantly ask the question 'which is more efficient at killing people'? Built into his answers is a presumption that cultures will always seek the most efficient way of doing things. Efficiency is an obsession that we have in our own culture, but doesn't necessarily obtain globally or in local decisions. So another way of putting his 'why' argument is:


How does this change in projectile weaponry support my belief that cultures grow more efficient over time?
Or maybe

How can my faith in the efficiency of a free market economy be used to explain these changes?

I don't on the face of it, object to the proposition of increasing efficiency in battle, but I do note that it's the only argument used to explain the changes in the excerpt I read, and in my own experience of Defence policy and expenditure, I see that efficiency is not the only consideration, and sometimes not even the chief one. Defence purchasing is riddled with oligarchies, monopolies and power-squabbles. So I'm wondering to what extent bronze cannon procurements were driven by the politics of the day and not just their efficiency in galley-fights.

But I'm a reader who also runs a company that supplies services to government -- so as I said, self-interest tends to direct the motive behind the why.

As I mentioned, whenever I see a Grand Theory of Why without a disclosure of self-interest I get suspicious. All it would take to allay that suspicion in this case would be a chapter at the front that says 'In my analysis I hold the following as axiomatic: that cultures may have their technological follies, but in a free market gradually tend toward increasing efficiency over time. I believe that a free market applies to warfare in this time and place, and that this can be used to explain long-term changes in tools and their use' Since I've only read the excerpt and not the whole book, for all I know Guilmartin may well have made such a statement elsewhere.

Higgins
03-19-2009, 12:11 AM
In practice while Guilmartin's 'why' arguments are plausible I think that they're also much less robust than his 'how' arguments. Here's why.



I don't want to go into massive detail about Guilmartin, though his work is so powerful in what it has to say about the 16th century that it has even had an impact in Art History...BUT...I think it is worth noting that his approach is purely historical and shows what a thorough historical analysis can do. Elsewhere in his work he does show how our perceptions of the seeming irrationality and inefficiency of Galley warfare are wrong and that things in the 16th century really did actually work "rationally" (ie cause to reproduce the circumstances of society X in terms of society X) for the 16th century state which was not organized like modern states and for example was more interested in enslaving populations rather than slaughtering them. Nothing particularly subjective goes on in the work and there are no facts involved either since if you are somebody who wants the facts you have no interest in 16th century Galley warfare. In fact the 16th century is a relatively fact-free environment since the US Constitution didn't exist and even Calvin and the Papacy barely nudge the edges of the factual world of facts.

ColoradoGuy
03-19-2009, 12:20 AM
. . . In fact the 16th century is a relatively fact-free environment since the US Constitution didn't exist and even Calvin and the Papacy barely nudge the edges of the factual world of facts.
What?

Higgins
03-19-2009, 12:56 AM
What?

Facts are culturally significant items. I live in a culture that assigns a significance of just about zero to the 16th century, therefore the facts associated with the 16th century are just about zero. Ironically, in the objective world beyond the veils of my culture, the 16th century is objectively pretty interesting.

Ruv Draba
03-19-2009, 04:52 AM
Facts are culturally significant items.Why do you think they must be culturally significant?

I see a fact as simply a record of an event. The word comes from the Latin facere meaning 'to do'. Very often, facts are recorded before we even know that they might be significant. Sometimes the records are made by accident or by nature.

Higgins
03-23-2009, 04:50 PM
Why do you think they must be culturally significant?

I see a fact as simply a record of an event. The word comes from the Latin facere meaning 'to do'. Very often, facts are recorded before we even know that they might be significant. Sometimes the records are made by accident or by nature.

I was hoping to distinguish between the culturally constructed "historical fact" (such as Urban II's instantaneious promulgation of Crusading Ideology in one instant in 1095 AD) and the heterogenous regions of different kinds of evidence that may or may not back up the facts. Here for example is some evidence about Urban II. Note how much of it is reinterpretation even in the "original source"....

http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/urban2-5vers.html

Ruv Draba
03-23-2009, 10:41 PM
History is the study of the past... including a big whack of humanity's past of course, but not just humanity's past. History intersects with astrophysics in mutual interest about the stars; with geology in mutual interest about continents and landmasses; and similarly with biology, climatology, geography etc... That being so, in terms of historical relevance I can't see any use in distinguishing between records made by humans and by nature, between records made intentionally (like the transcript of Urban's speech) and those made unintentionally (like indigenous midden-piles), or between records we currently use as evidence and records we've yet to find use for. Historically, the 'factness' of the record depends on its authenticity of origin. What we make of its significance (e.g. why or how it was made, whether it's accurate, representative, what it portends) are I think, separate questions.

Authentication is a consistency check, that a record purporting to be of time and place is consistent with what is known of that time and place. When the record is an artefact of human lore (like Urban's speech) then there are conceptual checks to be made too. Had this record of Urban's address commenced with "Yo, my mediaeval homies" then we'd naturally ask questions. :)

Authenticity testing for an historical record doesn't look very subjective to me. It may be imprecise (e.g. dating artefacts might be across a range), but scientific observations always are.

The interpretation of meaning and significance of a record is naturally against culturally-motivated questions though, and those questions can be loaded with cultural bias and assumption. But science occasionally suffers this too (e.g. in the now-defunct pseudoscience of phrenology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology)). Science overcomes this problem through obsessive rigour and parsimony, and so too does any serious historical investigation, given time.

Really, the only time history looks subjective to me is when it's co-opted to support political positions. When historians put tribal concerns above human concerns that's bound to contaminate their findings, but I don't think that the theory of the discipline itself is to blame for that; just the discipline of the practitioners.

Higgins
03-23-2009, 11:33 PM
History is the study of the past... including a big whack of humanity's past of course, but not just humanity's past. History intersects with astrophysics in mutual interest about the stars; with geology in mutual interest about continents and landmasses; and similarly with biology, climatology, geography etc... That being so, in terms of historical relevance I can't see any use in distinguishing between records made by humans and by nature, between records made intentionally (like the transcript of Urban's speech) and those made unintentionally (like indigenous midden-piles), or between records we currently use as evidence and records we've yet to find use for. Historically, the 'factness' of the record depends on its authenticity of origin. What we make of its significance (e.g. why or how it was made, whether it's accurate, representative, what it portends) are I think, separate questions.

Authentication is a consistency check, that a record purporting to be of time and place is consistent with what is known of that time and place. When the record is an artefact of human lore (like Urban's speech) then there are conceptual checks to be made too. Had this record of Urban's address commenced with "Yo, my mediaeval homies" then we'd naturally ask questions. :)

Authenticity testing for an historical record doesn't look very subjective to me. It may be imprecise (e.g. dating artefacts might be across a range), but scientific observations always are.

The interpretation of meaning and significance of a record is naturally against culturally-motivated questions though, and those questions can be loaded with cultural bias and assumption. But science occasionally suffers this too (e.g. in the now-defunct pseudoscience of phrenology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phrenology)). Science overcomes this problem through obsessive rigour and parsimony, and so too does any serious historical investigation, given time.

Really, the only time history looks subjective to me is when it's co-opted to support political positions. When historians put tribal concerns above human concerns that's bound to contaminate their findings, but I don't think that the theory of the discipline itself is to blame for that; just the discipline of the practitioners.

I agree that ideally the "facts" that fill people's heads would all be authenticated...but this does not seem to be even remotely what is going on. When somebody tells you the facts about something, chances are none of them are authentic. Rather than revise the usage of the word fact, I've decided to let it be the absurd mess that it is and say that my concern is not with facts except in so far as they can be diagnosed as symptoms of a mentally dysfunctional collision between the Person A and World B....
Better I think to insist that historical methodology doesn't deal with facts but with evidence, authentication, chronology, causality and so on...

Ruv Draba
03-24-2009, 08:49 AM
I agree that ideally the "facts" that fill people's heads would all be authenticated...but this does not seem to be even remotely what is going on. When somebody tells you the facts about something, chances are none of them are authentic.Then perhaps what they are communicating is opinion expressed as fact. But the astute listener can translate "Britney Spears is stalking you" into the more semantically accurate "I believe that Britney is stalking you", and decide whether the opinion requires fact-based evidence.


[...] my concern is not with facts except in so far as they can be diagnosed as symptoms of a mentally dysfunctional collision between the Person A and World BThat sounds almost like a pomo manifesto, Higgins. Put wryly: "I'm not interested in the facts unless they embarrass someone." ;) (We've had the conversation about clowns and pie-tossing, so I won't resurrect it). But is that history or politics on the topic of history? And aren't some historians still interested in facts (or must I give up on the whole discipline as anything but a pie-chucking contest)?



Better I think to insist that historical methodology doesn't deal with facts but with evidence, authentication, chronology, causality and so on...But what does evidence mean without facts? Should unsubstantiated opinion be considered evidence, and if so how do you weigh it? And is the study of opinion alone more properly a subject for historians or sociologist and anthropologists?

(A disclosure of bias here: my mind is atypical -- only about 3% of the population have INTP (http://www.personalitypage.com/INTP.html) sorts of thoughts. But unsubstantiated opinion tends to register as noise to my lot, regardless of who holds the opinion or how popular it is... I'd need some strong argument to support the proposition that just because some people use unsupported opinion as evidence, it is evidence.)

Higgins
03-24-2009, 04:40 PM
That sounds almost like a pomo manifesto, Higgins. Put wryly: "I'm not interested in the facts unless they embarrass someone." ;) (We've had the conversation about clowns and pie-tossing, so I won't resurrect it). But is that history or politics on the topic of history? And aren't some historians still interested in facts (or must I give up on the whole discipline as anything but a pie-chucking contest)?


I'm just talking about the usage of the words "historical facts"...in fact I would say that one would be fortunate if the standard repetoire of such facts actually rose to the discursive level of opinion. I agree that history should be better based on evidence than opinion, but that one ought to be very wary of:

1) accepting the idea that anything about historical methodology is more subjective than anything else people do (in fact it is likely to be far more objective than most things people do)
2) using the fact versus subjectivity diacotomy since this supports 1)
3) accepting the idea that there are "historical facts" just sitting out there waiting for your subjective appraisal (see 1 and 2)...ie that history is accessible without some careful work.

Anyway, I naturally have some pomo manifestos in reserve, but the current discussion hasn't wandered that way so..I'll reserve them for now.

Higgins
03-24-2009, 05:50 PM
I'm just talking about the usage of the words "historical facts"...in fact I would say that one would be fortunate if the standard repetoire of such facts actually rose to the discursive level of opinion. I agree that history should be better based on evidence than opinion, but that one ought to be very wary of:

1) accepting the idea that anything about historical methodology is more subjective than anything else people do (in fact it is likely to be far more objective than most things people do)
2) using the fact versus subjectivity diacotomy since this supports 1)
3) accepting the idea that there are "historical facts" just sitting out there waiting for your subjective appraisal (see 1 and 2)...ie that history is accessible without some careful work.

Anyway, I naturally have some pomo manifestos in reserve, but the current discussion hasn't wandered that way so..I'll reserve them for now.

reply to self: getting rid of facts and subjectivity: at least rhetorically a more direct confrontation with things as they are.

Higgins
03-24-2009, 08:21 PM
reply to self: getting rid of facts and subjectivity: at least rhetorically a more direct confrontation with things as they are.

More reply to self:

Our culture is like any other, only moreso. In any culture there are areas that are in flux and areas that are relatively fixed. It's nearly impossible to even traverse the fixed areas at all in terms that are engaging for most of the participants. Look at what happens whenever I post about Classical or Mayan Art in this subforum. Zero. That's all obviously in a fixed area. There's nothing engaging about it. Kind of strange. It may be that since our culture at least seems to have methods for representing aspects of other cultures (such as the Classic Mayan Art) or cultures that are not quite entirely other cultures (such as Classic Art) this very apparent ability has to be to some degree frozen or fixed or ignored or else this culture would become something other than a culture. A non-cultural post-culture or a purely technical realm with its own very rapidly evolving ways of evaluating things. Well...sort of like parts of the online world already are. Sort of like an Art or a Science at the moment they move into new territory with new techniques.
But what about an idea about re-evaluating Picasso? Let's suppose Picasso is still in a part of some culture that is in flux (but not either in the frozen realm that must be kept at bay if cultures are to remain cultural and not in the possibly post-cultural realm)...how do people manipulate their own cultures without introducing anything from "elsewhere" (the frozen nothing inside or the outside altogether)? I'm thinking there are some well-known possibilities:

Via personal power and influence (say when Saatchi buys some of Hirst's stuff)
Via symbolic manipulations such as myth or religion or purity cults or Ghost Dances
Via entertaining manipulations such as paintings or hallucinagens or online games or writing
Via statelike ideological power (as in the authorities burn all paintings of type x or command a pyramid to be errected or )
Via an address to the structural relations between reality and culture (science and scholarship)

Of course you can mix and match these options and have say an Entertaining Cult of Saatchi or a church with mosaics of the Empress Theodora...but those are the universal options. Individual freedom is a legal theory, not a cultural one.

from:

http://www.absolutewrite.com/forums/showthread.php?t=62444&page=4

And from the same thread:

This "subjectivity" is entirely in terms of what happens to pass through the various contexts of whatever box full of Western Civ you happen to be soaking in. Just to gain a little perspective, I always find it useful to try to look at all artiality as an Art of some kind, where the dreaded capital that signals abstraction to some actually signals an ellided attempt at making the generality and the subjectivity into something concrete with a non-subjective history that asymptotically approaches the incredibly elaborate. For example in a thread below in this subforum (called "A Beard of Mary Beards"), I put forward the idea of Classical Art as perhaps the most instructive case of relatively simple and generally forged and reconstructed objects that illuminate a whole series of Arts all more or less built out of the same repetoire of objects. Mary Beard herself in her book provides a vaguely D. Hirstian context with rooms full of reproductions of casts of dogs that died at Pompeii and so on. So there is a region of symbology (so to speak) where the evaluations that get juxtaposed are definitely aesthetic (at least in retrospect ...but then what musings and mullings over are not retrospective?)...So I think you can isolate some areas of symbolic comprehension and exchange that can only be adequately defined with reference to some objective schema of successive aesthetic juxtapositions and there you have your Art.