Friday, March 5, 2010

On "Lessons of History" @ EotAW

silby recently posted a thought-provoking entry on EotAW that articulates a response to the question "what is history?"

my point is . . . to note how badly the historical ethos sometimes relates to the larger society. If I had quickly to sum up that ethos, it would be as “Yes, but….” That is, historians go about constructing the past, aware always of that process of construction, and willing to consider alternate designs. Yes, this is how I am interpreting this history now, but I am aware that there are other interpretations and other evidence. Despite George W. Bush, all history is (or should be) revisionist. All history should be ready to be rewritten. The effect of that “Yes, but…” is to make scholarly history complex and at the same time weaselly, uncertain and always whirling around to catch the interpretation sneaking up from behind.

The complexity that this creates is, of course, at odds both with the simplicity that Paul Krugman craved and that economics provided. It is at odds, as well, with the adversarial nature of the court room, in which opposing counsels must argue, without doubt or allowance for ambiguity, their side of the case.

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