Tag Archives: Philosophy of History

History on Shuffle

Jenny Reeder, a member of my cohort here at GMU, was studying for her quals last semester, and she showed me her 3×5 cards. I’d never really used them before, personally, for anything other than public speaking classes in high … Continue reading

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What We Talk About When We Talk About History, Part II: Atheoretical History?

I know that the mere mention of the word "theory" makes some people’s eyes roll and their ears flap shut, but history needs theory.

I read Black’s Maps and History last year, and I have to say I rather liked it. But reading it again after reading The Landscape of History and James C. Scott’s Seeing Like a State in the last few weeks, the lack of any underlying theoretical structure in Black’s book really stuck out like a sore thumb.

It’s probably not helping that last week I was required to read another book, David Stradling’s Smokestacks and Progressives, that had essentially the same problem. That book sensitized me to how annoyed I can get when there’s a lack of theoretical underpinning to a work of history, even one on an interesting topic.

So yeah, Stradling and Black fall into the same trap– they give very authoritative and in-depth accounts of activity over time, without any theory unifying their books. In one case, it’s the history of smoke abatement movements in the Progressive Era and into the Depression, and in the other, it’s the evolution of historical atlases. Both are fascinating topics. Both books seem quite well-researched. But neither author really puts much effort into demonstrating commonalities over time– whether they be commonalities in causes of change, effects, methods, forces that repeatedly influence the historical narrative, commonalities over time…

And that’s what I’m talking about when I say theory. […]

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What We Talk About When We Talk About History: (Hopefully) Part One in a Series…

I’m not an Historian.

At least, not yet.

I’ll tell people this proudly, because I think it means I’m not coming at this project with any artificially "naturalized" concepts– I like to think I don’t have as many assumptions about what history is or how one goes about it. This is because academically, I’m not from an historical background. And I honestly just don’t completely grok what people talk about when they talk about history. Since coming to George Mason, though, I’ve been trying to work through what it means. […]

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What We Talk About When We Talk About History: (Hopefully) Part One in a Series…

I’m not an Historian.

At least, not yet.

I’ll tell people this proudly, because I think it means I’m not coming at this project with any artificially "naturalized" concepts– I like to think I don’t have as many assumptions about what history is or how one goes about it. This is because academically, I’m not from an historical background. And I honestly just don’t completely grok what people talk about when they talk about history. Since coming to George Mason, though, I’ve been trying to work through what it means. […]

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Peter Novick, That Noble Dream

Novick breaks up the book into four periods: the 1880s through 1910s, WWI and the interwar period, the mid-40s through the mid-60s, and finally, the 60s into the 80s. The “narrative” is that of, in the corresponding time periods, the … Continue reading

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