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HIS294 September 18 - Thinking Critically about History and Historiography: The Study of the Caribbean

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Melanie Newton

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HIS294 – September 18, 2012 1 Historiography, History and the Past  History is what happened and what is said to have happened o The two sides of historicity which is the quality of having a retrievable past o Kind of like the tree falling in the forest but no one being there to hear it o The ability to retrieve history is important  The question is "how does power shape historical production?" o History is a process not just a moment o It's not just the event or the series of events, it’s the entire process  History should be seen in the same way as a conversation with a living person o Not just about learning the past to know something about ourselves but it's also about learning about the people in the past  Discipline of history o A set of methods that are used to answer a set of questions  Over the last 100 years, universities have become places where people are trained in the subject of history  Emergence of history as an academic discipline, cemented universities as the place where the past is researched and knowledge of it is given using fairly standardized methods  Higher degrees are required for historical works to be written by someone of authority  'experts' are those who have learned these methods from a university  This belief obscures the millions of methods that can be taken to understand and learn the past  How societies engage with the past is what makes each different o All societies engage with the past o All tell stories of the past but there are different measures for the authority behind the storytellers  There are unequal contexts through which people write history because they are a small group of privileged people and therefore they can 're-write' history to suit them by leaving things out  History as a discipline is closely associated with the spreading of Western thought  On the one hand unis were created and serve to limit who can talk about certain subjects, but at the same time they are also places where new ideas that challenge the old are created  "the past is a position, not a place"  The living constantly redefine their understandings of the past, of power and their relationship with it  Struggles over why and how the past matters are part of the power struggle of the living  "what happened" = primary source o The one thing about history that doesn't change over time HIS294 – September 18, 2012 2 o The interpretation of it may change, but the documents themselves have stayed the same o What can be accepted as a primary source has changed over time o Societies leave new kinds of traces over time that come to be accepted as primary sources  "what is said to have happened" = secondary source o Just as important as primary sources o Written interpretations of primary sources and events o Are crucial to the production of history o There is an emphasis on always putting forth some new information or new kind of analysis o With new sources there would be a new interpretation, there could also be a changing of social understanding o They are a reflection of the context in which they are written or produced as well as providing an analysis of the past  The Practice of Writing History o Leopold von Ranke and Ibn Khaldhun are the 'fathers of history' o Von Ranke was 19th century German historian who specialized in the emergence of European civilization  We have him to thank for the concept of a primary source  The historians job was to use primary source to show history the way is really happened/actually was o 3 trends that influenced von Ranke  Idea of the nation state  Creation of Italy and Germany  European imperial expansion  1885 Berlin Conference and the Scramble for Africa  Solidified the idea that in order to be a real state, you had to have an empire 3. Racial hierarchies  Socio-scientific theories that backed up the Scramble for Africa  Race was a legitimate means of organizing people  Phenotype - external differences that were signs of race that mapped onto internal differences between these races  Nation-states were the necessary output of European superiority o There isn't a final interpretation of history like Ranke thought, therefore new interpretations are supposedly infinite o Just because a historical debate is 'old' doesn't mean that it has seized to take place HIS294 – September 18, 2012
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