Aug

26

This is a must read!: "Randomness and Order". It's about what randomness and order mean in different disciplines.

Stefan Jovanovich writes:

The historian's comments were revealing: "Quantum physics is in a formal sense random – the same electron can be in two places at the same time – whereas my stuff is random in a different way. It reminded me that data are random everywhere. And our job is to turn them into something more coherent, and that's true across all disciplines."

The idea that "history", like physics, could be formally random, that people are not, in fact, "in control" is still a completely radical idea. The only place you find even a hint of that understanding is among the classicist scholars who are now dying off. For them the archives were and are limited enough to be fully known, and enough time had gone by for the grand Whig and Marxist and German historical school generalizations of earlier historians to have been not been proven by the actual evidence. That still left the details of what could be known and inferred from the limited records; from those the classicists (A. R. Burn, to name one) were able to find "coherence". But it was the coherence one finds each day in the responses individuals make to their particular circumstances, not a grand discovery of a lasting pattern.

Of course, with such a view, there could only be individual histories of times and places and people. No wonder Marx remains fundamentally popular. He granted permission for the permanent presumption that the true generalizations are, as the X-Files put it, "out there".

As Professor Wickham puts it, "Historians love to study tiny details; I love to study tiny details too, but I like to put them together. I think that putting-together process is a very important one."

Indeed.


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