Re: : The Iroquois and the Early Radical Feminists

karl h schwerin (schwerin@UNM.EDU)
Fri, 9 Feb 1996 15:39:01 -0700

On Thu, 1 Feb 1996, Donna M. Lanclos wrote:

> I'd just like to note here that "feminists" are far from the only ones
> who look to history to provide precedents ("real" or "imagined") for
> their ideals. It's a popular (and effective) technique, and one that,
> IMHO, in no way invalidates the ideals held by the group employing said
> technique.
> History is, after all, constructed, is it not?
> Donna Lanclos
> UC Berkeley Dept. of Anthropology

On this point, I'd like to refer all of you to the excellent paper by
George Stocking, "On the Limits of 'Presentism' and 'Historicism' in the
Historiography of the Behavioral Sciences,' pp. 1-12 in Race, Culture and
Evolution. Chicago, IL: Univ. of Chicago Press 1968, reprinted 1982.

The efforts to show anticipatory insights in past figures and their
thinking is what Stocking calls 'presentism,' i.e. trying to justify
one's current thinking in terms of the prestige of past thinkers. But as
both emphasized in the current thread, as well as stressed by Stocking,
that does not necessarily do justice to what those earlier thinkers and
writers were *really* concerned about.

The alternative is what we might consider a kind of historical
ethnography - trying to understand what people were really thinking and
saying *in the context of their times.* This is Stocking's
'historicism.' For example, how much do you think people 50 years from
now are going to understand current jokes about Bob Dole, Steve Forbes or
'Newt?' Or "OJ" jokes for that matter. Sometimes you have to immerse
yourself into the historical context in order to fully appreciate where
people are coming from.

In any case, I always have the incoming graduate students, who are taking
our general course on the development of Ethnological Theory, read
Stockings paper as a good reminder not to get carried away with the
"insights" our antecedents had on contemporary issues.

Karl Schwerin SnailMail: Dept. of Anthropology
Univ. of New Mexico Albuquerque, NM 87131

There are people who will help you get your basket
on your head because they want to see what is in it.
-- African proverb