Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Let's Be Honest: We All Have the Same Method

One of the reasons I came to Texas A&M is that when I was visiting the school one of the professors made a derisive comment about "the holy trinity of Race, Class, Gender." I took that as a very good sign. And for the most part, the faculty here are sensible. However, even at a place like A&M there is a lot of talk about hip new methodologies and "synthetic history" and vogue terms like that. So I found this passage rather refreshing:

But the essence of these [vogue] critics' procedure is the same as the most hidebound reactionary's: survey the evidence, come up with a generalization you believe to be true, support it with specific textual evidence, and locate your interpretation in the tradition of scholarship concerning the subject as document in footnotes. And do all this in language that is clear and coherent so that your idea can be communicated to your community of scholars.

(Bruce S. Thornton's "The Enemy Is Us: The 'Betrayal of the Postmodern Clerks,'" in Bonfire of the Humanities: Rescuing the Classics in an Impoverished Age, 164.)

While it's true that different scholars have different ways of going about things, the pseudo-philosophic veneer of methodological mumbo-jumbo so many historians (and, from what I can tell, other scholars) employ is just that: a veneer that distracts from the real work they are, or ought to be, doing.
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