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 History: Is it science or art?

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nordmann
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PostSubject: History: Is it science or art?   Sun 11 Mar 2012, 10:38

I've been waiting for Temp to kick this one off for a while - it's an interesting question which she has raised several times now in the context of other discussions here. So, with apologies, I'll take the initiative and raise it here.

The question of what constitutes either a science or arts field of study is one on which universities are generally in agreement, and in the case of history their verdict these days is unanimously and unequivocally that this subject falls under arts and humanities. But how it got there is itself a history of how, over the centuries, our relationship with and understanding of what constitutes fact has undergone several radical shifts of perspective, both in relation to the importance and relevance of fact to knowledge, and to the role of conjecture in learning.

History as a subject worth studying in its own right is a relatively recent addition to the syllabus compared to others, but its importance academically predates this emergence by a long, long way. To trace the history of history education back to its roots one soon finds oneself immersed in the history of two other grand old academic disciplines - philosophy and theology. In the case of the latter "ology" history played, for many centuries, the dual role of enabler and vindicator of theological theory. In the case of the former it performed a similar function, but with the additional characteristic of a requirement that it itself be examined for verifiability - the root in fact of its emergent status as an academic discipline apart from its parents.

Which is where the question posed by Temp becomes extremely relevant. As an offshoot of philosophy it inherits a very mixed pedigree indeed, and while it of course retains the parental stamp of conjectural academic study it is also a close relation to that other great departure in academic classification which had its roots in philosophy (and indeed theology) - the emergence of science and the non-conjectural application of empirical proof as a fundamental feature of what can be deemed "knowledge", and therefore taught as such.

Leaving aside the obvious scientific methods which are brought to bear these days on acquiring understanding of our past (such as archaeology, genetics etc), it is not difficult to see how this close relationship with its academic cousin plays a huge role in defining what might be termed mainstream historical theory. While individual historical theories can abound, it is those which receive the most vindication through a scientific pursuit of evidence which are considered most valuable - a feature of the subject which in fact emphatically sets it apart from its parents. One might even say that without these vindications arrived at scientifically then history, as theory, is pointless - at least in as far as it is generally taught.

So is it therefore a subject which straddles both approaches and is forever doomed to do so? Or, can we take a long view and with some justification assert that we are witnessing an irrevocable migration of history from art to science? Alternatively, can we take a view with almost as much justification and assert that history's reliance on scientific vindication has seen its zenith? A glance at the books populating the history section of libraries and bookshops these days would seem to suggest as much, with an increase in popularity of conjectural (often wildly conjectural) historical literature, at least as consumed by the masses.

Science or art? Where exactly does history lie within the spectrum?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sun 11 Mar 2012, 11:41

Oh thanks for starting this, Nordmann.

No time now - I'm off out all day, but just an immediate response - questions, I'm afraid. Indeed, I suspect I'll be asking more questions than offering answers on this topic.

The debate has ancient origins, I think? History has her own Muse - Clio - but was it the Romans who assigned this specific "arty" Muse to the subject? The Greeks didn't - or have I got that wrong?

Didn't Aristotle draw a very clear distinction between history on the one hand and poetry on the other, suggesting that the two are distinguished by one obvious thing: "that the one (history) relates to what has been, the other (poetry or literature) to what might be"? The "arty" approach may "charm for a moment", but the historian should seek not to charm, but to present something more enduring. Mmm. Isn't it possible to do both?

And Thucydides - used Homer for his "introductory material" on early Greece - but made it clear he didn't really approve? I read some time ago that Thucydides deliberately set out to apply the scientific methods of the Hippocratic writers to his own treatment of the past. T. understood - like the medical theorists - the problems of bias, shaky evidence and he noted the need thoroughly to check the reports of witnesses whose accounts could be faulty.

Oh heck - got to go. This is not thought out in any way (haven't even really read your post carefully) - just a preliminary ramble. Hopefully will get an interesting ball rolling.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sun 11 Mar 2012, 12:16

Both of your examples featuring Aristotle and Thucydides illustrate perfectly how much the concept of "history" has changed since classical times, I would say.

In the case of the Aristotlean comparison between poetry and history the modern mind is first struck by the comparison itself. These days they are not two subjects which automatically lend themselves to comparison at all, but in Aristotle's time both were very closely related indeed in that both were employed to further what was then deemed a knowledge of philosophical truth, or at least aid in ascertaining whether such a concept could even be supported. What he understood as "history" therefore was conjectural in the extreme and contradictory historical assertions, unlike today, could quite happily coexist without a requirement for verification. In short, it was a theoretical pursuit grounded in assertions about the past though rarely ever designed or required to go much further than aiding philosophical deduction based on that theory. It was fanciful, in the best meaning of the term, and reliant primarily on imagination, hence its proximity to poetry. Poetry as he understood it also attempted to flesh out philosophical theory expressively but purposely avoided such grounding in assertion based on "what has been". One was not better than the other and to a certain degree they were also interdependent. Their muses were therefore closely related (Clio is as Greek as they get - daughter of Zeus, no less).

Thucydides, who as an historian adopted a method and expression very close to the modern concept of the subject, must still be viewed in the context of his time. We do not know what philosophical ideals or schools of thought to which he may have been attracted, but we do know that one of his motivations was to "set the record straight", especially with regard to Pericles, and that this more than anything governed his style of assertion. It is wrong to assume that he set great store on empirical evidence - he was as prone as any contemporary to unsubstantiated assertion - but he did see its value when nipping other competing assertions in the bud. In this way he was a proto-cynic and when his history of the Pelopponnesian War is read in that light its structure, flow and relative emphasis on subjective detail is easier to understand. Moreover, Herodotus, his successor, when viewed in that context becomes less atavistic in his approach when he writes history as a series of moral lessons, a charge that has often been levelled against him by historiographers. Both men were in fact operating within the same cultural milieu and according to the same parameters. Thucydides chose to allow the asserted facts speak for themselves (his book is extremely modern in its ammorality) while Herodotus, more conventionally, tended to "rub it in" when it came to moral deductions. However Aristotle, coming along later, would have made less of that distinction than we might. To him both histories were the basis of further conjecture, not factual in the sense we use the term today and nor should they be expected to have been produced to that end. To think that either even attempted to be regarded as such would have been to deprive them of much of their intellectual value to a philosopher, and this would have been deemed very disrespectful, to say the least, to their authors.

Great and all as their histories were, and indeed were those of the later Roman historians - who were essentially biographers using historical detail to illuminate their subjects and prone therefore to extreme subjectivity - they were not primarily motivated by a desire to arrive at an objective overview of the past, something which we have traditionally come to associate with the subject as an academic discipline. History, like biography, was adjunct to a philosophical endeavour and the application of scientific principles was occasional and not by any means compulsory, or even necessarily expected or welcome in some cases, especially if it interfered with philosophical deduction through its presence.

What I've been wondering lately is if we're not actually heading back to this ethos in some respects, at least in terms of "populist" history?
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 00:14

nordmann wrote:
As an offshoot of philosophy it inherits a very mixed pedigree indeed, and while it of course retains the parental stamp of conjectural academic study it is also a close relation to that other great departure in academic classification which had its roots in philosophy (and indeed theology) - the emergence of science and the non-conjectural application of empirical proof as a fundamental feature of what can be deemed "knowledge"...

Just come in and read your detailed and challenging replies.

My first reaction is to run away and hide. But that won't do. I probably should wait until the morning before attempting any kind of response because there is just so much to think about in what you have written. It's pretty daunting. Just a couple of thoughts to be going on with - may I start with with your first post and the above quotation from it?

First thought - is this where Francis Bacon comes in? I know Bacon as the father of the scientific method, an intellectual revolutionary and a self-professed anti-Aristotelian, but is it true to say (as Beverley Southgate does) that in fact Bacon discussed the relative characteristics of history and poetry in such a way as to "confirm the old Aristotelian distinctions"? History - according to Bacon - should not be "sexed up", but should be - as Aristotle actually suggested - a straightforward gathering of empirically identifiable data. The poetic approach to history, far from being some kind of vehicle for universal truths, is effectively just a pretence - or "feigned history". Poetic historians are usually guilty of exaggeration, imagining and describing "acts and events greater and more heroical than those that have actually occurred", and they just cannot resist the temptation to endue ordinary or mundane actions "with more rareness, and more unexpected and alternative variations." Another criticism of "poesy" is that poets have been able to impose a more moral order on their subjects than is actually apparent in historical events: "because true history propoundeth the successes and issues of actions not so agreeable to the merits of virtue and vice, therefore poesy feigns them more just in retribution, and more according to revealed providence."

Then, fancies, flee away! History, lacking imaginative imput, is properly governed by reason which "doth buckle and bow the mind unto the nature of things." In other words reality rules - or should rule? More on that later.

Second thought (I am actually falling asleep at the keyboard) - although the Baconian approach proved enormously popular, producing what someone delightfully described as "the Bacon-faced generation" (including Walter Charleton who wrote that "Judgement should have the Chair, because the vertue of History consisteth in Method, Truth and Election of things worthy Narration; nor is there need of more Phansie, than what may serve to adorn the stile with elegant language"), did everyone agree this was the right way forward? Was Bernard de Fontenelle a lone voice when he complained about his contemporaries' - all presumably good Baconian scientist/historians - approach: "To amass in the head fact upon fact...that is what is called doing history."

This is probably a load of irrelevant woffle, but will send it anyway.
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Gilgamesh of Uruk
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 00:39

I suppose that, since the word "science" is derived from "scientia" - knowledge, history should be viewed as a science.
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normanhurst
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 03:56

Help needed to get a grip on this… these ancient scholars of ancient times that studied the history you speak of… are the same people that we study, read about and in my case do simple research endeavouring to learn more. So who were those ancient scholars studying the history of… civilisations of an even greater antiquity… I need a bit of a timeline to help understand what I hope will develop into a fascinating thread… unfortunately, as always I can offer nothing to these threads, but by heck I do enjoy reading and learning from those that do…

Another point… I can’t see where art comes into it, and the title of this thread. History: is it science or art… is it that these subjects have taken on new meanings in the modern day, I can understand say, the ‘history of art’, or the history of anything, as eventually everything will have history, the very latest in DNA sequencing will in time fill the pages of history books, but will that come under the heading of art… I’m confused, and I do so want to understand this thread.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 05:30

For such a little word, art has a very complex meaning Norman and can be applied to any special skill in any disipline. Although, this thread is taking off into realms I'm finding difficult to understand also.

art 1 (ärt)

n.
1. Human effort to imitate, supplement, alter, or counteract the work of nature.
2.
a. The conscious production or arrangement of sounds, colors, forms, movements, or other elements in a manner that affects the sense of beauty, specifically the production of the beautiful in a graphic or plastic medium.
b. The study of these activities.
c. The product of these activities; human works of beauty considered as a group.
3. High quality of conception or execution, as found in works of beauty; aesthetic value.
4. A field or category of art, such as music, ballet, or literature.
5. A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.
6.
a. A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building.
b. A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer.
7.
a. Skill that is attained by study, practice, or observation: the art of the baker; the blacksmith's art.
b. Skill arising from the exercise of intuitive faculties: "Self-criticism is an art not many are qualified to practice" (Joyce Carol Oates).
8.
a. arts Artful devices, stratagems, and tricks.
b. Artful contrivance; cunning.
9. Printing Illustrative material.



[Middle English, from Old French, from Latin ars, art-; see ar- in Indo-European roots.]
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Caro
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 06:01

Norman, people studying at university often graduate with either a science degree or an arts one, and that is where the art part of this question comes from. English, languages, philosophy, history, perhaps geography, though it straddles both more obviously. I am uncertain about ones tending to medical studies - psychology, etc. Law and medicine form fields of their own. I don['t know about anthropology which was popular when I was at university but may not be so much any more.

I suppose I think what differentiates the sciences from the arts is the ability to measure anything scientific. To put it into numbers somehow, and I don't think history does this to any great extent. History has data and facts but these seem to be often disputed even when you would think there would be obvious sources - where a battle has taken places (as is seen by Tim and Nordmann's discussion of where the battle of Brunanburg is, even the town or area can be uncertain, without going all that far back into the past. And we are going to have to re-visit Bosworth to ensure we step on the right bit of soil for the battle!

And Nordmann has mentioned the subjectivity of reporting earlier, which seems to me to prevent any totally objective facts being ascertained (even supposing people's memories are always reliable, which they aren't).

For these sort of reasons I don't know how history can be truly considered science (though like others, I haven't read Nordmann's and Temperance's posts at all thoroughly).
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 06:06

That ID give me great comfort, and thanks for being honest about it. I think I’ve already shown my ignorance ref this on one of the early threads, and I’ve thought long and hard about it. For instance why can’t I see half a cow in a tank of formaldehyde as an exhibit in a prominent art exhibition as an art form while others do, and rave about it… surly that would make every butcher’s deep freeze a work of art as well? Somewhere the arty farty gene has bypassed me… and I don’t really mind. And yet I can appreciate one of the classic painting, sculptures, or pieces of furniture. There are times I think academics try to put too much into these things just to differentiate ‘them’ from ‘us’… but I don’t want to be one of them… I’m more inclined to the more classical art forms. Where for example does art and history become one discipline? I wish I could understand that.

oops sorry caro... crossed post.
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 08:14

Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
I suppose that, since the word "science" is derived from "scientia" - knowledge, history should be viewed as a science.

Precisely Gil - that is the modern view since we now think of history as an accumulation of knowledge about the past. But that's the point I was trying to make earlier; this has by no means always been the case and both the history of the subject called history as well as the etymology of the word itself betrays its actual roots.
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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 09:36

Gilgamesh of Uruk wrote:
I suppose that, since the word "science" is derived from "scientia" - knowledge, history should be viewed as a science.

Mmm. Richard Evans, in his "In Defence of History" goes into all that - lots of talk about German - Wissenschaft and Geschichtswissenschaft and Geisteswissenschaft and Literaturwissenschaft which lost me completely. German may be a thoroughly respectable language - as Lady Bracknell noted - but it's certainly a confusing one. Evans says that, as E. H. Carr "correctly observed, the question of whether or not history is a science or not has been discussed in Anglo-American circles largely because of 'an eccentricity of the English language.' "

I don't understand. Perhaps Nordmann could explain.

But surely the most serious challenge to history's claim to be scientific rests on the belief that true science can only exist if it is able to posit general laws. Can history do that? Can a historian predict with certainty future events? No.

And what about moral judgements? No moral judgements in a lab, but can a historian really avoid them? I think it was E. H. Carr who said he or she *should*, but is this actually possible? Is it desirable? Can you deal with Holocaust denial for example in a coldly clinical fashion?

nordmann wrote:
So is it a subject which straddles both approaches and is forever doomed to do so? Or can we take the long view and with some justification assert that we are witnessing an irrevocable migration of history from art to science?

"Doomed" is an interesting word, but is it necessarily the correct one? If History is a sort of fish with feathers should that really worry us? I quite like Sir Geoffrey Elton's view that in the end history is neither an art nor a science. "History," he proudly declared, "is a study different from any other and governed by rules peculiar to itself."

I think he had a point.

PS I suppose too we should be asking where science is "migrating". Goodness knows. Apparently no subject - not even physics - is safe from the postmodernists' onslaught. Actually the suggestion that there can never there be an entirely clear separation between the researcher and the object of research makes complete sense for the study of history, but I'm very confused as to how it applies to science. But apparently it does. Elton again: "The post-Newtonian view of the physical world, denying the absolute, allowing for the unpredictably contingent, and accepting the effect of the observer upon the matter observed, might not be a bad analogy for good history."

My head hurts. Can we have another picture quiz?
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 09:45

I had composed a probably over-long response to your Bacon points which fell foul of a network error and disappeared. I'll get back to it later since it represents to me the nub of the semantic challenge when one discusses history, or even Aristotlean for that matter.

It also addressed the issue of morality in inquiry, be it scientific or otherwise. If I have few hours later I'll see can I type it in again
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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 10:32

Quote :


Evans says that, as E. H. Carr "correctly observed, the question of whether or not history is a science or not has been discussed in Anglo-American circles largely because of 'an eccentricity of the English language.' "

I don't understand. Perhaps Nordmann could explain.


I can only imagine Carr is referring to the semantic difficulties encountered with both of these words as used in English. Both "science" and "history" now mean something different to when they were coined. In Norwegian, for example, this particular difficulty is circumvented neatly by simply retaining a semantic continuation with the original meanings. It still presents problems in how these subjects should be described in contemporary terms, but at least the discussion can start with the fact that the terms are outdated when viewed against current practise. "Vitenskap" (to-know-ship) and "Historie" (story) are no longer adequately descriptive of the disciplines they describe.

But that is a side-issue here, I feel. Ultimately, regardless of their names in English, Norwegian or any language, there has been a huge shift in what we judge as valid practise in both fields anyway, and it is really an understanding of where we're at in this development which will decide whether history can best be described as a science or an art. It ostensibly fits the former, though its reliance on speculative inquiry and deduction also places it in the latter camp. And that's even before we begin to discuss the vestiges of a moral basis for inquiry inherited from classical philosophy which are retained in the discipline today.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Mon 12 Mar 2012, 23:14

Nordmann,



did already some research for the now closed BBC messageboard, for the French Passion-Histoire and for Historum.

http://www.historum.com/general-history/15445-history-historians-11.html

http://www.historum.com/general-history/35283-history-fiction-science-3.html

See also there the links to the BBC and to Passion Histoire.

I owe still a reply to Ferval on the Historum, but now involved for the moment into British Fascism on Historum...

And already past midnight here near Bruges (Central European Time)

See you tomorrow for more replies...

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Tue 13 Mar 2012, 09:06

Being distantly relate dto Poh and therefore of a little and of simplistic outlook, I cannot see what this is really about.

Surely all those matters that have a definate proof in truth are science. We do not have all the answers - we as yet do not even know all the questions but anything related to matter and time as truths and which have been or will be defined in specific irrefutable truths can be defined as science. All else which has living matter affected variables are not science. The disiplines applied to science are used in all aspects of the arts but that does not make them of science.

Philosophy and maths are now often studied together. Logic rendered down to formulae is the closest that arts and sciences converge, perhaps - and now I am wading way beyond my depth. If that is what this is all about then I had better swim ashore asap.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Tue 13 Mar 2012, 16:21

Priscilla wrote:
Philosophy and maths are now often studied together.

Back to their roots, then.


The issue of whether history is a science or an art in the academic sense becomes crucially important in certain contexts. The most obvious one which springs to mind is in the area of propaganda, which often uses historical data to add spurious weight to a quite subjective assertion, and is the more attracted to doing so the more its audience, it is hoped, regards the data as having been scientifically ascertained. There are some comical instances which appear to defeat their own purpose (so-called "biblical archaeology" often provides some supreme examples), but there are others which have been engineered so skilfully that after decades, or in some cases centuries, the effect of having wrapped an historical assertion in spurious scientific clothing is still being felt in the form of many believing as "fact" that which never actually occurred. To pull this off, of course, the propagandist himself has to assert also that history is a science; otherwise the assertion is vulnerable from the outset. By the same token however the propagandist, through his extreme application of the skill, is actually and not without irony proving all along that history is in fact an art, and in many ways he is really only doing what history was originally designed to do - provide a context for a story, the semantic root of the term itself.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Tue 13 Mar 2012, 18:04

Propaganda is an ancient and clever art form. Tony Blair springs to mind. The well educated sometimes fall for it too. Most history is written with a bias = perhaps physics is too which defeats my arguement above but to my mind medicine and biology are also arts because they are subjective. Oh dear, I see the water depth line is getting dangerous I had better swim back fast. My last words being, anyway , so, hmphf, history is an art form.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Tue 13 Mar 2012, 19:11

Do the methods used to train history undergraduates help persuade us that history nowadays veers towards science?

I am at a huge disadvantage here, because I have had no historical training whatsoever: I just read. But I know that, in a discipline where, besides written documents and related secondary literature, bone remnants, cloth samples, gut contents, wood fragments and so on are all potential primary sources, extensive reading, however enthusiastically undertaken, is simply not enough.

Without at least some sort of basic scientific grounding in, for example, forensic technology and anthropological techniques - not to mention the mathematical ability to understand the complexities of "cliometrics" (that very scientific-sounding word for economic history) - someone like myself is a mere amateur.

And yet. And yet. "Amateur" is an interesting word. It can mean "one lacking in experience or competence", but it also means " a lover of ". Is sheer love of the subject more important than scientific competence where history is concerned? Theodor Mommsen, the great German historian of Ancient Rome, thought so. He declared in 1874 that it was a "dangerous and harmful illusion for the professsor of history to believe that historians can be trained at the university in the same way as philologists or mathematicians most assuredly can be." The true historian, he said, was "not trained, but born."

Ah, but things have changed since 1874, we could say, yet the Oxford historian, Theodore Zeldin, echoed Mommsen's scepticism about "training". He wrote this in 1976:

"I have no wish to urge anyone to write history in any particular way. I believe that the history you write is the expression of your individuality; I agree with Mommsen that one cannot teach people to write history; I believe that much more can be gained by encouraging young historians to develop their own personality, their own vision, their own eccentricities...Original history is the reflection of an original mind, and there is no prescription which will produce that."

So, to become a great historian is it better to be an eccentric (devoted to the subject) rather than a well-trained scientist - a competent technician? I really do like the sound of that, but - helas - I'm not wholly convinced. In the 21st century you surely need to be a bit of both (plus have decent computer skills).

One last thought. Perhaps if history is neither art nor science it is, as Haydon White suggested, a *craft*?

PS Got a question about Clio the Muse and the Romans - back in a minute.

Edit: Too tired to witter on about Clio now. Back tomorrow.


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nordmann
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Tue 13 Mar 2012, 20:10

I would just like to point out that "art" and "craft" are words which may have become divorced from each other in recent centuries but were quite happily married still when universities decreed "arts" to be a term for certain disciplines. This while the universities themselves were being built by "artisans" who may or may not have been impressed by the dean's lectures, one of which may even have been delivered by Dean Cosin in Cambridge who admonished his students with the words "Those of you who sullenly avoid the crafts of rhetoric and Greek may think yourself students but you are not. You are mere artists, not artisans." Now how's that for confusing the semantics!

"Artist" in 17th century England was not a good thing to be - it suggested artifice, nor artisanship.
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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 07:40

Ducking Nordmann's semantic spanner - which is an interesting addition to the discussion, to Temp I say that Science is a valued tool and methodology in any historical research but that does not make History a science.

Organtic knowledge is an art, Inorganic knowledge is a science I suppose my argument boils down to. Not sure if I should go on. My mind is in too many places at onece today. Multitasking is an art.

I cannot believe I just wrote 'methodoogy' - one of my really really pet hate words of all time - gee - I'm losing it.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 08:27

Priscilla wrote:
...to Temp I say that Science is a valued tool...

I agree - and of course even the best trained historian cannot be an expert in *everything*.

Which prompts me to ask what I hope is not a really daft question - do the really important historians these days simply have hordes of left-brain directed minions - the research assistants - to do their "spadework", so to speak, for them? Is the job of the really great men - and women - in the profession simply to *interpret* with flair and originality? To see, if you like, the *whole* picture? That's what Mommsen and Zeldin would seem to be suggesting. The historian as interpreter par excellence - the wise man (or wise woman, of course) who uses information - data - simply as a means to a far more important end: to piece together the "stories" that fascinate and enrich?

Which gets us back nicely to square one, doesn't it - to the really big question. If we agree that history is not a science (just uses "science" simply as a means - a *tool* - to find authentic material), then are historians any different in essence from novelists or poets?


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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 08:57

And in the final analysis, Temp, isn't interpreting with flair and analysis what the great scientists do as well? Is there really such a clear dichotomy? Both should create the best possible narrative from the best current data but the 'arts' in this sense are just rather further along the continuum towards the end where the variables are so myriad that the need for choice and selection as to relevance leaves more space for differing interpretations.

Must dash.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:26

ferval wrote:
And in the final analysis, Temp, isn't interpreting with flair and analysis what the great scientists do as well? Is there really such a clear dichotomy? Both should create the best possible narrative from the best current data but the 'arts' in this sense are just rather further along the continuum towards the end where the variables are so myriad that the need for choice and selection as to relevance leaves more space for differing interpretations.

Must dash.

Yep!

I've been pondering John Donne ths morning - "The Anatomy of the World." How like our own times were the early years of the 17th century!

"And new philosophy calls all in doubt,

The element of fire is quite put out;

The Sun is lost, and th'earth, and no man's wit

Can well direct him where to looke for it.

And freely men confesse that this world's spent,

When in the Planets and the Firmanent

They seek so many new; they see that this

Is crumbled out againe to his Atomies.

'Tis all in pieces, all coherence gone..."

No man's wit. Mmm. Was Donne a member of the Northumberland Circle, I wonder? I have no idea. Wonder how he got on with Bacon?
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:38

Great scientists have flair and imagination and then reduce their findings of it to a comclusive and irrefutable truth; historians cannot do that because of the human variables that may impinge and colour a total truth. I cannot think why I am sailing in these choppy waters without a depth chart. And no obeiance, ferv, my life sounds much grander than reality - human variable lacking expanded detail detail. see? Oh lord, so how much is a fine English teaset worth in the tropics? Problems, problems. I digress and not doing what ought at the moment.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:41

Ah, when in doubt bring in the metaphysical poets. A ploy I have used myself - and got myself into another fine mess.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:43

I love Donne. His "Death Be Not Proud" is my anthem.

He seems to have been a Northumberland Circle groupie in his time, rather than a member. While he apparently was friendlily enough disposed towards Northumberland to have visited him in the Tower (as he also made a huge excursion once just to talk to Kepler), he nevertheless satirised Nicholas Hill mercilessly in several published poems and essays. He was not an advocate of "atomism", which a Northumberland Circle devotee was more or less obliged to be (he hated Bruno), but he was all the same a huge fan of the notion that philosophy should advance untrammelled by secular or religiously inspired restrictions on thought.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:44

Not a "ploy" at all, Priscilla. Why do you say that?
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 11:50

Because its how I use metaphysical poets even if you don't. I tease, Yemp, don't get alarmed.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 12:03

*Divine* Sonnet x? Now that really surprises me, Nordmann, but possibly shouldn't. I think Sonnet xiv is also wonderful.

I'm not yemping, P., but I may start any minute.

Got to go now - things to do, doilies to iron, googles to google...
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 12:15

Quote :
Great scientists have flair and imagination and then reduce their findings of it to a comclusive and irrefutable truth

But isn't it the crux of the scientific method that no truth is conclusive and irrefutable but only that it fits all the known examples and has not yet been falsified? At which point the black swan swims quietly into view, nibbling some pond weed.

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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 22:46

ferval wrote:
Quote :
Great scientists have flair and imagination and then reduce their findings of it to a comclusive and irrefutable truth

But isn't it the crux of the scientific method that no truth is conclusive and irrefutable but only that it fits all the known examples and has not yet been falsified? At which point the black swan swims quietly into view, nibbling some pond weed.


Ferval,

after two hours very hard work to construct a message the whole was blocked and I was obliged to close my computer to escape from the hour glass. I tried on all possible ways to save my elaborated work but every time you had taht devilish hour glass...after half an hour with high blood pressure I gave up and lost my message...not possible to send or to preview anymore...

Twisted Evil Twisted Evil Twisted Evil

Kind regards and with esteem,

a very angry Paul.

PS: I sought the most relevant quotes from the second thread that I mentioned above to Nordmann and with some conclusions and comments for you Ferval as you also contributed there...and that long work I have to do now all over again...but it will be for tomorrow...

PPS: I started with the sentence: Perhaps it is here the moment to contribute again to the thread, although I am not that poetical or whatever it is as you, when you start with: "At which point the black swan swims..."
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 23:04

Hi Paul, what a bummer. better luck next time.

Here's a passage on Karl poppers Black Swan that rather neatly explains what I was trying to say
Quote :
Popper was also critical of the naive empiricist view that we objectively observe the world. Popper argued that all observation is from a point of view, and indeed that all observation is coloured by our understanding. The world appears to us in the context of theories we already hold: it is 'theory laden'.

Popper proposed an alternative scientific method based on falsification. However many confirming instances there are for a theory, it only takes one counter observation to falsify it: only one black swan is needed to repudiate the theory that all swans are white. Science progresses when a theory is shown to be wrong and a new theory is introduced which better explains the phenomena. For Popper the scientist should attempt to disprove his/her theory rather than attempt to continually prove it. Popper does think that science can help us progressively approach the truth but we can never be certain that we have the final explanation.

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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Wed 14 Mar 2012, 23:38

ferval wrote:
Quote :
Great scientists have flair and imagination and then reduce their findings of it to a comclusive and irrefutable truth

But isn't it the crux of the scientific method that no truth is conclusive and irrefutable but only that it fits all the known examples and has not yet been falsified? At which point the black swan swims quietly into view, nibbling some pond weed.




It's one of the problems when discussing evolution (by which they don't mean evolution at all) with unitelligible design freaks - they think people beleive in scientific theories. Some may (especially the theories they propounded first themselves), but no real scientist should make that mistake.



The more I think about this topic, the more convinced I am that it's a false dichotomy, and that history, like many other subjects, can be approached in a number of different ways, some more scientific, others less so.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 08:54

Karl Popper is the chap Wittgenstein went for with a poker isn't he? Happened at a meeting of the Cambridge University Moral Sciences Club in 1946. What on earth had Popper (who seems to have been a kindly, tolerant sort of bloke) said to upset the big W. so much?

Is it true to say that empirically orientated historians are wary of "philosophy" or "theory", especially postmodernism? Wary might in fact be too mild a word - are they actually *terrified* of it and its exponents (whom they call the "truth vandals")? Richard Evans's book, "In Defence of History", was apparently published as a response to the "disintegrative attack" of postmodernism; Evans (who is Professor of Modern History at Cambridge) believes that (in the words of his blurb) "under the onslaught of postmodernist theory, the profession of history is in crisis."

Is science "in crisis" too? Is that necessarily a bad thing - for either History or Science?

But, like Priscilla, I feel I'm getting way out of my depth now, attempting to woffle on about things I do not fully understand. But it is all very interesting.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 10:13

Gil wrote:
The more I think about this topic, the more convinced I am that it's a false dichotomy, and that history, like many other subjects, can be approached in a number of different ways, some more scientific, others less so.

Quite agree - which is why the question at the start really should have been "When is history science and when it is art?" Answering the question as it stands leads to two counter-revolving circular arguments which meet only at the points of most confusion.

The reason this issue popped (pardon the pun) up in the first place is because of an assumption or implication that it is either one or the other in certain cases, and this can often be used to falsely represent historical assertion.

If you take a glaringly obvious example and the recent "discovery" of Jesus's tomb then you can readily see where such an implication as described above has been recently used. This was a discovery which purported to inform (or even confirm) a historical assertion which has never been either informed or confirmed scientifically before, at least not when any previous forensic examination arrived at a final analysis, or even attempted to. However the value of the "find" meant very little purely in terms of narrative history since the bulk of people who accept this particular history as fact on the basis of the narrative alone have done so therefore without any compunction to verify fact with forensic evidence in any case - to them such evidence is simply a "bonus" should it be found. In order for it to have any appreciable value in historical terms therefore it was necessary to present it as forensic evidence in its own right, or at least present it as a worthy subject of further forensic examination. In this particular case the main point of this approach seems to have been to generate money for the discoverers, their principal audience being those who are so hopeful of "bonus" forensics to augment their historical assumptions that they are naturally interested in any major claim that fits the bill, and this one was major in the extreme. However to do so the claim had to be presented couched in scientific terms and inviting scientific analysis, otherwise it might not even attract that audience of willing believers. Of course it was only a matter of time before academic and forensic scrutiny of the archaeological claim devalued it in those terms, and the claimants seem to have anticipated and ultimately acknowledged this too (presumably they have earned enough while the issue was still "hot", which was also probably the plan all along in any case).

This may be an extreme example, but it serves as a powerful indicator why we should question almost every instance of where an historical assertion is couched in terms which suggest either a previous forensic verification or as being such verification in its own right. Since history is written, in the main, in narrative form (and not just as lists of formulae or indices) it is often through narrative reference that we are made aware of this forensic analysis, though rarely are we au fait enough with that evidence to judge its relevance or authenticity when we encounter it. If each such assertion could be considered the equivalent of a scientific postulation, and each assemblage of assertions deemed to coincide with scientific theory (in its strict sense) then each forensic claim which supports either should be testable, either to verify or (in Popper's view) falsify the claim.

In science this is easy, or at least straightforward for those with the time, resources, education and intellect to take the trouble. In history however, so much is claimed as forensic evidence or stated in forensic terms that we tend to accept (or reject) a lot of it "on faith", and where we do investigate the forensic evidence we find as often as not that it too has been assembled as a mixture of "hard data" and assumption-based analysis too. Scientifically therefore it is a mess. Even at its most scientific it is still subjective analysis submitted for subjective review at theory and postulation level, and only can be easily distinguished as literature or science on a much lower and less significant level. Hard data, like the devil, is in the detail, but it does not readily lend itself to formulation of theory as scientific data should.

History as a subject, in my view therefore, can therefore satisfy nearly all the principal requirements of an arts discipline, but nearly none of those required of a science discipline. And yet, of all the arts subjects, it is the one which is unique in presenting its most important analyses in terms of forensically justified data which has, by implication, been through the same process as scientific theory in its formation, when this is the one thing it could never in fact have been.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 14:23

Re Nordmann's last para. There, just what I have been trying to say but just not gettng the words or thoughts out or in the right order.

You are either parsimonius with commas, nordmann, law trained or horribly correct in using them. The Punctuation Fairy was more liberal at my birth. Possibly because the Spelling one never showed up.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 15:58

Priscilla wrote:
Re Nordmann's last para. There, just what I have been trying to say but just not gettng the words or thoughts out or in the right order.

You are either parsimonius with commas, nordmann, law trained or horribly correct in using them. The Punctuation Fairy was more liberal at my birth. Possibly because the Spelling one never showed up.

They've all been filched to stand in as Greengrocers' Apostrophes.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 18:24

Life without commas is such a trial. I once had to rewrite a constitution after lapses in an organisation that needed redressing. No commas allowed in such documents, succint wording with clear understanding - and a flair to work out where loopholes might be found. Took me months but the lawyer given it to check before we adopted it approved with praise even. I soon fell into bad ways again thereafter. As with my grandson, staying good for too long cannot be expected.

Pub menus here Have 'Battered cod and chip's' Chip's what? I once asked.

'Chips'n vinegar if yer like.' I said that, yes vinegar was good for bruised fish and had steak pie.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 21:58

ferval wrote:
Hi Paul, what a bummer. better luck next time.

Here's a passage on Karl poppers Black Swan that rather neatly explains what I was trying to say
Quote :
Popper was also critical of the naive empiricist view that we objectively observe the world. Popper argued that all observation is from a point of view, and indeed that all observation is coloured by our understanding. The world appears to us in the context of theories we already hold: it is 'theory laden'.

Popper proposed an alternative scientific method based on falsification. However many confirming instances there are for a theory, it only takes one counter observation to falsify it: only one black swan is needed to repudiate the theory that all swans are white. Science progresses when a theory is shown to be wrong and a new theory is introduced which better explains the phenomena. For Popper the scientist should attempt to disprove his/her theory rather than attempt to continually prove it. Popper does think that science can help us progressively approach the truth but we can never be certain that we have the final explanation.


Ferval,



thank you very much for the Popper explanation. I will try again to "compose" again my lost message from yesterday.

I first gave the quotes from the Historum discussion the second thread that I mentioned to Nordmann in one of my former messages. I don't include one of yours, while that will be the subject of our further debate.

From me:

"For me is history or rather "historiography" (history writing) a science.

The meticulous research of the past by all kind of sources and methods as for instance archaeology along the scientific method obtained by the studying of history at a university.

Then the historian makes a logic structure of the events to construct a coherent narration again all along the scientific way.

Under no circumstances can the historian make a moral judgment, it is not his task. Only readers of the historical work can give their moral opinions."



From Frog (a Frenchman living in the UK and also a contributor to Passionn Histoire that I often have mentioned here)

"If an historian does not base his conclusions on facts, then he is not an historian. Or if he bases his conclusions on opinions (his or others') he is a partisan historian.

Sources being sometimes limited or biased, the historian's job is to investigate, cross-reference, and try to formulate an objective conclusion.
The fact that some sources' trustworthyness may be suject to caution does not mean history is about fiction, but merely points to the potential limits of historical research. As in all investigation, cross-refenrencing sources and their confrontation give the historian the material which enables him to formulate his conclusions, and by no means his "opinion".

Historical research is in constant evolution thanks to new sources being made available. More raw material leads to a better understanding and thus to more accurate conclusions.

I would be careful with historical narratives, as enjoyable to read as they may be. Simplification for the sake of clarity and accessibility to the general public leads to a distorted understanding of events."


From Frog again:

"I think it has more to with a scientific method through rigorous analysis in historical research, which should lead historians to detect and avoid prejudices, subjectivity, bias etc
The fact that objectivity has limits due to the nature of the sources does not mean historians cannot adopt a scientific method to formulate conclusions in the most objective way possible considering the material they have at their disposal for their research.
I think this is what "scientific" means for historical research.
History is not scientific, but historical research is, or should be. "

From Sylla (Mexico)

"History is a scientific discipline.
As it is often the case for other scientific disciplines, it is not always possible to rigurously apply the scientific methodology to absolutely all the available evidence.

Admittedly, for History such is disturbingly often the case in comparison with other scientific disciplines.
However, whenever falsifiable evidence might be properly evaluated, it is still evaluated in essentially the same way than any other scientific discipline.

Back to the OP, as stated true History is scientific; chauvinistic (and other) narratives may often be fiction, but strictly speaking and in spite of any euphemism, that is no History. "

Ferval, will first post this for fear to lose it again as yesterday.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 22:46

Quote :
Great scientists have flair and imagination and then reduce their findings of it to a comclusive and irrefutable truth; historians cannot do that because of the human variables that may impinge and colour a total truth.
Priscilla

Quote :
Even at its most scientific it is still subjective analysis submitted for subjective review at theory and postulation level, and only can be easily distinguished as literature or science on a much lower and less significant level. Hard data, like the devil, is in the detail, but it does not readily lend itself to formulation of theory as scientific data should.History as a subject, in my view therefore, can therefore satisfy nearly all the principal requirements of an arts discipline, but nearly none of those required of a science discipline.
Nordmann

Those statements by Priscilla and Nordmann sum up what I was trying to say earlier too. I just do not think there is any way to reduce history and its concepts and stories to only measureable and ‘scientific’ methods.

The human variables Priscilla talks of become even more distinct when cultural variants come into play. And I don’t think people realise at all just how affected they are by the culture they grow up in – the ideas, the methods they use, the attitudes they take forgranted, the manifestations of these things they are surrounded by. I haven’t lived in other cultures beyond England a bit, but I don’t think people in, say, Afghanistan or Somalia or Tonga have the same attitudes at all to scientific methods or consider the same things important as European scientists and historians do. But they still value their history. (I am not quite sure about Somalia, but I know Afghanis and Tongans do.) I do know that Maori have a different view of history too – they incorporate European ideas, but they don’t reject at all their oral histories (many of which are tending to be validated by scientific methods anyway) or their view of interconnections between the spiritual, the material and the mind.

P, I also was taught to use more commas and still prefer to. If I read something I have written and it isn’t immediately understandable I add commas till it does. I think sentences are shorter nowadays in general, and people use other methods of pause – dashes (and brackets).

Cheers, Caro.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 23:10

Hi Paul, thank you for your reply.
Whereas there is much in your post that is relevant, the main issue that must prevent history from being a science in the sense that any of the hard sciences are, is that the past is not directly accessible to us. However rigorous the research and however well the scientific analysis of the data is carried out, we must always interpret that data to make sense of it and do so now, in the present. The past is not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, it has gone and we can only reconstruct our version of it. That is not to allow rampant relativism; that version must accord with the evidence but we can never accommodate all the variables or possible variables so selection and prioritisation must happen.
There are elements of that hermeneutic process of interpretation that have parallels with the scientific method but, ultimately, we are active, participating members of an existing developed 21st c. society and have only known that. It has constructed us and we cannot entirely escape from that, bracket it off so completely that it does not in any way impinge.
The people and society we are investigating are alien to us; the past is a different country. We are trying to reconstruct a past that we have never experienced, cannot interrogate and to do so from the incomplete remnants that have happened to survive and so have to employ our judgement as to the reliability and relevance of these.
The process of assembling any reconstruction of the past cannot escape being to a greater or lesser extent subjective, how could it be? The discussion elsewhere on this board on arrow making is fascinating, not in the details of the arrows, mind numbing, but in the way that different contributors approach and address the topic and the degree of attachment that they can show to one type of bow or another. Or is that just a boy thing and impenetrable to me? Anyway, would we want one, scientifically verified, authenticated and official version of the past and of whose past would it be and whose version?
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 23:18

Addendum to previous message.

Ferval,

as I read again about our discussion about "art", "craft" and all that and reading again what I put overhere in my previous message, and I think Frog hinted at that in one of his messages, don't we have to make a separation between the research of the historical events along the scientific methods and then secondly, the act of "constructing" from all this research, the narration, the story, although I prefer the "report"?

I agree that "constructing" is the most difficult part of the two, while there you need the "skill" of a "honest" historian. And even historian philosophers, seem not to agree on what way it has to be done. In a discussion with you on Historum I mentioned the two Dutch ones, who tried to tackle this difficult material. I have to say in a very difficult language, Ankersmit even more than Lorenz.

"Ferval,
yes we come again on the difficulty of the historian to transpose him/herself into the thinking world of the actors of the past? Read some years ago two books from our local library, both in Dutch but translated in English now I found out. I wanted to publish some comments from the internet in Dutch as I didn't find a translation in english but this evening I found the one from Ankersmit:


Frank Ankersmit - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Frank_Ankersmit


<p>
NLPVF:: Frank Ankersmit: Sublime Historical Experience (De sublieme historische ervaring)
Sublime historical experience - F. R. Ankersmit - Google Boeken

It seems to describe what we mean, but I have read it in Dutch, but in Dutch or in English I didn't fully understand it. Simple mind that I am. Read once the comment of a reader of my third URL.

Second book:
Chris Lorenz | Cultura Histórica


Constructing the Past - an Introduction to the Philosophy of Chris Lorenz: Amazon.ca: C. Lorenz: Books



<BLOCKQUOTE>
</BLOCKQUOTE>
Comments in Dutch to support my reasoning(will try to summarize the trend in English)

Triomf van het historisme

Critics of the two books by:

Univ.-Prof. Dr. Peer Vries
Also in Dutch to support my reasoning (will try to summarize the trend)
http://www.knhg.nl/bmgn2/V/Vries__P....pleidooi_v.pdf

Ferval, I read again all the comments. And the opinions seems to differ, even in such a complicated language that I don't want to try to explain it as I don't quite understand it all.

Will give tomorrow further comments about my own opinions.

Don't know what happens here as my text is in red and underlined ????

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.

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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Thu 15 Mar 2012, 23:53

Thanks Paul, I found this which I'll try to read and respond to but don't hold your breath, I'm going to get busy for a while now. http://www.culturahistorica.es/chris_lorenz/truth_and_objectivity_in_history.pdf
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Fri 16 Mar 2012, 15:32

Thank you for the link above, ferval.

I started hopefully, but by the end was in complete and *utter* despair. I understand bits here and there, but most of it is totally beyond me. I tried to print it out so I could read it really carefully and underline things, but my printer, thank God, won't print it.

I think your succinct post above actually says all we need to know!

Having said that, Caro might find the chap's remarks on ethnocentrism interesting. I actually followed the first bit of his section on that, but then got lost again.

I want to ask a question about the forensic examination of the bones found in the Tower, but I hesitate - we've probably all had enough of that.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Fri 16 Mar 2012, 22:43

ferval wrote:
Thanks Paul, I found this which I'll try to read and respond to but don't hold your breath, I'm going to get busy for a while now. [url=http://www.culturahistorica.es/chris_lorenz/truth_and_objectivity_in_history.pdf
http://www.culturahistorica.es/chris_lorenz/truth_and_objectivity_in_history.pdf[/quote[/url]]

I see now that our posts crossed each other yesterday. As for the links that I posted yesterday. I put them here to study them myself again, as it is from 15 January that we had our conversation yet. And I see that the Irish "General Michael Collins", who promised on the 16th that he would comment next morning didn't jump in again. I think he is also afraid of my links Rolling Eyes .

As you and Temperance, (I tried already many times, to find some logical pattern in all this) I am completely lost. These high intellectuals use some language that only they among each other can understand I suppose. I posted already on the ex-BBC some thread about the seemingly opposed two, when I was trying to read the two books and had not one single reply...what is quite understandable if you see the complexity of their language. As I see it now, I hadn't perhaps better given these links again, as to not trouble your minds and mine.

What I retain from it, if I quite understood it and it is a big if: Ankersmit tried to explain "Historism", but in his later life is turned again to the narrative. Lorenz differ of the Ankersmit approach and propose a third way, intermediate between the two. I read now the third professor De Vries and he comments the two, but at the end I really don't know if he one of the two supports. And the language of De Vries is perhaps a bit more understandable for "normal" people, but it is nearly as difficult as his colleagues Ankersmit and Lorenz.

And it doesn't matter if it is in Dutch (my mother tongue), or in English to understand the difficult reasoning and language. Why or why can't they talk as we do it here? I completely understand you, Temperance and Caro...Perhaps can Nordmann, make some logical summary from all of it? It is the only person on these boards, who I see as competent enough to do such a task. (Nordmann, don't be offended, as I speak indirectly to you)

Better to forget this highly sophisticated debate among these professors and to go ahead further in our more low level conversations as also Gil did?

For me I close this Lorenz/Ankersmit/De Vries debate and will try to answer on your message of yesterday, message, which is perhaps not that sophisticated as from the professors, but at least more comprehensible to me.

Kind regards and with esteem,

Paul.
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ferval
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Fri 16 Mar 2012, 23:18

Hi Paul (and Temp),
I'm still trying to catch up here but I looked at Ankersmith and found this http://books.google.co.uk/books?hl=en&lr=&id=scVoelrt9awC&oi=fnd&pg=PP11&dq=ankersmit&ots=36130SPPGt&sig=DKeY1Yasa0vv8UjEN3jV0Dqg9ZI#v=onepage&q=ankersmit&f=false
From what I've skimmed so far, I'm finding I'm very sympathetic to his views, particularly those in chapter 5. i haven't come across him before but I like his style!

So many books, so little time.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sat 17 Mar 2012, 00:10

ferval wrote:
Hi Paul, thank you for your reply.
Whereas there is much in your post that is relevant, the main issue that must prevent history from being a science in the sense that any of the hard sciences are, is that the past is not directly accessible to us. However rigorous the research and however well the scientific analysis of the data is carried out, we must always interpret that data to make sense of it and do so now, in the present. The past is not ‘out there’ waiting to be discovered, it has gone and we can only reconstruct our version of it. That is not to allow rampant relativism; that version must accord with the evidence but we can never accommodate all the variables or possible variables so selection and prioritisation must happen.
There are elements of that hermeneutic process of interpretation that have parallels with the scientific method but, ultimately, we are active, participating members of an existing developed 21st c. society and have only known that. It has constructed us and we cannot entirely escape from that, bracket it off so completely that it does not in any way impinge.
The people and society we are investigating are alien to us; the past is a different country. We are trying to reconstruct a past that we have never experienced, cannot interrogate and to do so from the incomplete remnants that have happened to survive and so have to employ our judgement as to the reliability and relevance of these.
The process of assembling any reconstruction of the past cannot escape being to a greater or lesser extent subjective, how could it be? The discussion elsewhere on this board on arrow making is fascinating, not in the details of the arrows, mind numbing, but in the way that different contributors approach and address the topic and the degree of attachment that they can show to one type of bow or another. Or is that just a boy thing and impenetrable to me? Anyway, would we want one, scientifically verified, authenticated and official version of the past and of whose past would it be and whose version?

Ferval, as I said yesterday to you:
"as I read again about our discussion about "art", "craft" and all that and reading again what I put overhere in my previous message, and I think Frog hinted at that in one of his messages, don't we have to make a separation between the research of the historical events along the scientific methods and then secondly, the act of "constructing" from all this research, the narration, the story, although I prefer the "report"?

I agree that "constructing" is the most difficult part of the two, while there you need the "skill" of a "honest" historian. And even historian philosophers, seem not to agree on what way it has to be done. In a discussion with you on Historum I mentioned the two Dutch ones, who tried to tackle this difficult material. I have to say in a very difficult language, Ankersmit even more than Lorenz.
Fri 16 Mar 2012 - 0:18"

Ferval,

as I read now your message, I hope, that we at least can agree on the opinion that:

"as I read again about our discussion about "art", "craft" and all that and reading again what I put overhere in my previous message, and I think Frog hinted at that in one of his messages, don't we have to make a separation between the research of the historical events along the scientific methods and then secondly, the act of "constructing" from all this research, the narration, the story, although I prefer the "report"?"

If we separate the "research of the historical events along the scientific methods" from the "constructing", don't you agree, that at least this first part can be considered as a scientifical method? Or is that already impossible from the beginning, as the researcher isn't independant enough to not prefer some sources above others, because of his own cultural background?

You wrote also in your message above about the impossibility to reconstruct the past, as the past is gone and for us, from the present , while we can't transpose ourselves completely in the thinking world and the perception of the environment of those people living in that past.

If I recall it well that was the last item that we discussed on the Historum thread. And again if I recall it well I agreed with you that that was one of the main problems of teh constructing of the historical event. And there you can have your argument for art, skill or craft (Nordmann seems to see an evolution during time in the separation of the words art and craft). But here again I repeat: a "honest" historian has to construct his "narrative" as less biased and as logical as possible. And even after that the attentive reader wanting to be in depth informed, has to cross-examine the "stories" of the different "honest" historians? I agree it is quite a task...

I want to add, as the former paragraph is about the past, is the constructing of the history of the "present" not nearly as difficult, as the one of the past? The same incompetence as to describe the thinking world and perception of the environment from a part of the world, a people, an event? One can call it the needs of a "honest" journalist? To give an example: I am now nearly seventy years living "conscientiously" in Belgium. For all these history messageboards I contribute to, I have studied all things related to Belgium in depth, but even as I am completely embedded in, impregnated by the Belgian history it is mostly not possibly to give exact "constructions" of what happened, even of the most recent events. And as you know me, you realize that I am always quite "honest" . Or doing my utmost best to be honest study Wink ...

Kind regards and with esteem for all your replies,

Paul.

PS: I read somwhere in this thread about the Maoris and their oral transmitted history. In my humble opinion is that, and not only for the Maoris, as valuable a source available to the historian as any other one.













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Temperance
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sat 17 Mar 2012, 07:39

PaulRyckier wrote:
These high intellectuals use some language that only they among each other can understand I suppose.

Martha Nussbaum, the American philosopher and Professor of Ethics and Law, famous for her - er - spirited debates (slanging matches) with other intellectuals, once said of an article written by (I think) Judith Butler:

"... (she) prefers a verbosity that causes the reader to expend so much effort in deciphering her prose that little energy is left for assessing the truth of her claims."

Philosophers seem to be the worst of all. And the postmodernists who write about writing are dreadful: they seem to have taken over from the Marxists in making a virtue out of being incomprehensible. I don't like people who use language as a weapon to bewilder and intimidate, and many of them seem to be doing just that.

This problem with difficult language perhaps links to the topic. Richard Evans has some interesting things to say about how historians should write. (He writes beautifully by the way; that is to say, I can understand *most* of what he says .)While acknowledging that many historical works (for example in econometric or demographic history) are necessarily written in specialist language, and so cannot avoid being highly technical and comprehensible only to the initiated, Evans continues:

" But does this make (such writing) scientific, and historical work written in non-technical language non-scientific? The distinction seems entirely artificial. Of course, in practice, when dealing with areas of the past where obsolete technical terms were involved, it is frequently impossible to avoid using specialized terminology. But this surely does not abrogate the historian's general responsibilty to write as clearly and unpretentiously as is possible under the circumstances. Lamenting the tendency in recent years to move away from this habit, Lawrence Stone says he was taught 'that one should always try to write plain English, avoiding jargon and obfuscation, and making one's meaning as clear as possible to the reader.' It is hard to disagree with him. Clarity of presentation, after all, is a necessary part of intellectual precision: there is nothing necessarily 'unscientific' or sloppy about it, quite the reverse."

Evans is scathing about what he calls "technical prose" in historical writing and he mentions a book, "Historical Culture" by Sande Cohen. This book is apparently written in such technical language that it is supplied with a glossary so that the ordinary reader can understand the words it commonly uses such as "actantial", "psychologeme" and - an absolute horror of a word - "distransitivity". Nothing wrong, of course, with the invention of new terms to denote newly discovered or newly posited phenomena, but Cohen does seem to have got a bit silly.


Last edited by Temperance on Sun 18 Mar 2012, 06:52; edited 3 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sat 17 Mar 2012, 07:45

But when when trying to write the essence of an arguement in straight terms you are said to be simplistic. That's its how I see things but could embroider if I so chose. Wouldn't fool many here I think.
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PostSubject: Re: History: Is it science or art?   Sat 17 Mar 2012, 20:01

Temp quoting Lawrence Stone wrote:

... one should always try to write plain English, avoiding jargon and obfuscation, and making one's meaning as clear as possible to the reader ...

An admirable sentiment though I can see one drawback, having once been accused on the BBC forum of obfuscation for having used a large word. The word? "Obfuscation".

Without dragging the discussion further into one of literary style I would simply say that there is exactitude and clarity when writing. They are not synonymous and in fact rarely overlap when attempting to convey an honest representation of one's views on a topic which requires both to be imparted. If I am reading, for example, an analysis of the data gleaned from an archaeological dig then I expect exactitude. If I am reading speculative theory regarding what the data might imply I appreciate clarity, since I have noticed that a commitment to such clarity lends itself to honest theory and exposes dishonest theory all the more easily in other cases. Obfuscation in either exercise is unwelcome and raises more suspicions than interest on my part, though the solution to avoiding it is not quite the same for both.

Objectivity, a concept touched upon in Paul's linked articles, is itself not objectively ascertained in the case of historical theory, whereas in the case of scientific analysis of historical data it stands a much better chance of so being. With this in the back of one's mind one becomes after a while quite adept at noticing the point of departure from one to the other, sometimes even within one sentence, when reading historical treatise.

It is a question of expectation. I expect that that the author has conflated the two for reasons of literary style and readability, and I expect that my own intelligence as the reader is not being understimated when it comes to recognising and acknowledging this. However when I suspect for even a moment that the author himself is not aware of the conflation, or is doing it in the hope that I am too obtuse to notice, then both he and his theory decline rapidly in my estimation. Much "biblical" archaeology and the books etc which are produced in that field are cases in point. But there are many other examples (depressingly many these days).
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