Posts Tagged ‘theory’

992 Arguments

How do we teach our students to argue, in an appropriate academic manner? At least one of the key elements is to help them to recognise, and criticise, different sorts of arguments in the secondary literature – and then to encourage them to turn this critical sense on their own work, to question every statement that they make and probe every possible weakness. But this needs to be critical criticism, so to speak; criticism that’s tempered by a sense of realism, of what is actually possible in historical studies – and by an awareness that there is rarely a single straightforward answer to anything, or a single correct approach. For example, identifying every source, ancient and modern, as ‘biased’ may be true, and better than total credulousness, but it’s generally unhelpful; at best it’s a first step rather than a conclusion, given the impossibility of finding a source that doesn’t have its own perspective, concealed or unconscious or otherwise. And if I thought it would help, I’d spend a lot of time citing Matthew 7.1-5… (more…)

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The most distinctive cry of the professional academic historian, to be heard (with only minor regional variations) throughout the Western world, is “Yes, but it’s rather more complicated than that.” Historians as a species concern themselves with detail and specificity, to an almost obsessive degree; highlighting the unique features of every period and every culture that mark them out from every other period and culture, and regarding any attempt at generalisation across periods or cultures or even individual cases with, at best, hearty suspicion (while relying on any number of unspoken generalisations) because, of course, it is actually rather more complicated than that.

It’s for this reason that historians really need to pay attention to the wonderfully-titled ‘Fuck Nuance’ (Abstract: Seriously, fuck it) by sociologist Kieran Healy (more…)

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