Thursday, December 26, 2013

Historians' (and our?) habits of thought

The December issue of Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association, has a fascinating column by president Kenneth Pomeranz, who teaches at the University of Chicago. He thinks that historians have more to offer than just background knowledge about the past -- that they have ways of thinking that may be distinctive and certainly can be useful elsewhere. I'll just list them here (read the whole thing!) so that we can ask ourselves the question: How much do we think in these ways?

Historians, he says,

* add context as they add sources. (Why here? Why now? What do other sources say?)

* juxtapose a variety of materials and consider them together.

* notice how things change over time, and what difference it makes when some things change faster than others -- in other words, short-term changes and long-term changes may not move in the same direction. (Pomeranz's example is how railroads for decades actually increased the demand for horse travel.)

* consider when and how to simplify and generalize without oversimplifying.

No moral here, just food for thought.

Harold Henderson, "Historians' (and our?) habits of thought," Midwestern Microhistory: A Genealogy Blog, posted  26 December 2013 ( : viewed [date]). [Please feel free to link to the specific post if you prefer.]

1 comment:

Geolover said...

Harold, thanks for pointing to this.

The interesting article sheds light on one of the more questionable, albeit strongly asserted, elements of "The Genealogical Proof Standard":

Soundly reasoned, coherently written conclusion: Eliminates the possibility that the conclusion is based on bias, preconception, or inadequate appreciation of the evidence.

“The Genealogical Proof Standard,” Board for Certification of Genealogists ( : last accessed December 26, 2013)