Friday, May 18, 2012

Don't confuse me with the facts!

Writing over at the American Historical Association's blog AHA Today, Allen Mikaelian considers the implications of Jonathan Gottschall's book The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human for historians (including, IMO, genealogists):

Facts have little to do with being human, when compared to all that story has accomplished. The public’s inclination toward an engaging story over and above things that historians value, like contingency and complexity [not to mention evidence -- HH], isn’t just a matter of personal choice or intellectual laziness—it’s a successful, hard-wired evolutionary adaptation that allowed societies to be built and genes to be passed on.
That gulf separating the careful historian from a general reading public has deep and functional roots. Historical thinking, if Gottschall is right, is not just an “unnatural act,” it’s the kind of thinking that would have, in the wilds from which we emerged, gotten us killed (or at least kicked out of the gene pool).
By all means read the whole thing. Mikaelian goes on to discuss some new attempts in history teaching to get students acclimated to other important aspects of historical thinking in addition to good storytelling.

I'm perfectly happy to commit the unnatural act of trying to think about evidence as well as story. But as genealogists -- who in this context are also public-oriented historians -- we need to be sure we don't lose sight of the stories, and our audience.

Allen Mikaelian, "Historians vs. Evolution: New Book Explains Why Historians Might Have a Hard Time Reaching Wide Audiences, Getting a Date," AHA Today, posted 9 May 2012 ( : accessed 16 May 2012).

Jonathan Gotschall, The Storytelling Animal: How Stories Make Us Human (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).

Harold Henderson, "Don't confuse me with the facts!" Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted 18 May 2012 ( : accessed [access date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

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