Re: History

Greg Finnegan (finnegan@HUSC.HARVARD.EDU)
Thu, 14 Mar 1996 13:37:53 -0500

[In re the 'history' thread in the Davenport/McCreery 'skein.'] =
addition to joining the applause for what has been a notably high=
point in
a generally rising quality of postings on this somewhat variegated=
I'm struck by several things. Overall, I tend to respond most positively
to McCreery (and Salovesh.) In the 'end of history' debate of the=
last few
days, tho', I find my self agreeing with McCreery but pondering Davenport.=

That is, if, as McCreery (or I) would argue, 'twas ever thus, and=
that it
is *not* novel that our own perceptions of our own (and others')
histor(ies) are incomplete, biased, and generally something to check
carefully before using as the basis for actions or analysis, why=
is it
still the case that we do gain something substantial from Davenport's=
summary of the layers of history? How do we differentiate the novelty=
the analysis from the novelty of the data? That's a rhetorical device,=
course--since the answers you get depend on the questions you ask,
obviously 'theory' is prior to, and determines, "data." But in real
anthropology we have trouble keeping straight the differences between
claiming new insights into agreed-upon problems and assertions that=
analysis allows seeing 'realities' invisible to one's ancestors.=
A point
not addressed, but relevant, in the Davenport/McCreery debate is=
how to
allow for one's ancestors or opponents seeing what one sees, but=
labeling it, or valuing, it differently.

I facetiously refer to myself as "pre-Post-Modern," and have been=
long enough to consider that a problem for anthro. (et al.) is to=
sort out
genuine theoretical advances from rhetorical, generational markers.=
example, I'm a cultural materialist in outlook--a student of students=
Steward and White--, but I *never* understood that anything was gained=
the term "social formation" that wasn't inherent in "social organization,"
except the cue that the employer of the term was self-consciously
advocating one flavor of materialist analysis.)
There is an element of what my undergraduate advisor, of the
almost-extinct, anthropologically-influenced group of 'institutional
economists', termed (as we discussed Malinowski's and Radcliffe-Brown's
functionalisms) the 'dialectical theory of theory development.' =
synthesis comes later, after each of us differentiates ourselves=
from our
predecessors. =20

Since part of the Dav/McC debate involves Asian views of culture=
history, I refer readers to an article too often overlooked: Li=
"Zuni: Some Observations and Queries." This 1937 article (AA 39:62-76,
and reprinted by the above-mentioned teachers of mine, Robert Manners=
David Kaplan, in their THEORY IN ANTHROPOLOGY: A SOURCEBOOK, Aldine=
is by a Chinese anthropologist who did his PhD at the U of Chicago=
in the
30's (and returned to China, and did not flee to Taiwan in '49, and=
so fell
out of discourse w/ Western anthro.) Li did the 'usual' US fieldwork=
the time, among native North American peoples; the value of his article=
a) the extent to which his being Chinese, not Euro-American, allowed=
to see things about Zuni culture and society that his colleagues=
did not
and b) the related point that the same perspective allowed him to=
see that
major debates w/in US anthro (and, since R-B was at Chicago at the=
w/in anglophone anthro), were more alike than the contending
anthropologists could see. (cf. R-B vs. Malinowski) =20

None of this devalues the clarification that comes from debate, especially
debate of the recent quality, but it reminds me (at least) that we=
always keep in mind that (to quote the naval humor writer Dan Gallery)
"things are not what they used to be, and they never were, neither."=

A final, probably apocryphal, statement of cultural views of history:=
an international symposium on the influence of the French Revolution=
subsequent world history, a Chinese historian is alleged to have=
said that
it was too soon to tell.

My librarian persona induces me to cite below a full citation to=
a book
mentioned in a recent posting, and a second which is a very good=
review of
the writing AND the uses of US history textbooks--which, despite=
the focus
in the title on the 20th century, reviews as well the origins and=
uses of
history texts in early US society as well. Fitzgerald also wrote=
THE LAKE, a book about the Vietnam-US/French war(s) which placed=
emphasis on differing and opposed notions of time, agency, and causation=

Kammen, Michael G.
Mystic chords of memory: the transformation of tradition in American
New York: Knopf, 1991.
864 p.: ill.; 25 cm.
Includes bibliographical references (p. [709]-825) and index.
%NUMBERS: ISBN 0394577698.
%SUBJECTS: Patriotism--United States. \ Memory--Social aspects--United=
States. \
United States--Civilization.

=46itzGerald, Frances, 1940-
America revised: history schoolbooks in the twentieth century.
Boston: Little, Brown, c1979.
240 p.; 22 cm.
"Almost all of the book appeared initially in the New Yorker.". =
Atlantic Monthly Press book.". Bibliography: p. [227]-240.
%NUMBERS: ISBN 0316284246
%SUBJECTS: Textbook bias--United States. \ United States--Historiography.=
United States--History--Textbooks. \ United States--History--Study=
and teaching.

Gregory A. Finnegan, PhD
Associate Librarian for Public Services
and Head of Reference
Tozzer Library
Harvard University
21 Divinity Avenue
Cambridge MA 02138-2089
617-495-2253 fax 617-496-2741

"=8Ahave mercy on us all --Presbyterians and Pagans alike -- for=
we are all
somehow dreadfully cracked about the head, and sadly need mending."=
MOBY-DICK, chapter 17.