ZenPundit
Monday, May 02, 2005
 
COGNITION ADDENDUM II: THINKING OUTSIDE THE HISTORIAN'S BOX

Several comments made by readers during the Cognition series here at Zenpundit and by email deserve their own examination as they related directly to the historian's perspective:

From Larry Dunbar:

"I see, vertical thought fills in the blank areas of the horizontal line that flows from the thinker. These blank areas contain the visions that the horizontal thinker “sees”. Once the areas are filled in, the vision or pathway is complete. Then we the vertical thinkers may walk the path of the horizontal thinkers. This would be kind of like an Autolisp program written for AutoCAD. The program would ask you the size, shape, and square distance of path, and the AutoCAD application would define and draw it for you. The application would be the vertical thinkers, and you, using the graphical interface of the computer, would be the horizontal thinker. The stepping-stones would be implicit laws that move the trail west"

Larry's comment which I have appended to Part III. in the footnotes for directly inspiring the " spatial" metaphor, point to a blind spot of most political historians which is to think of history primarily in terms of time rather also than space or place.

Why this is most likely would be the dominance of verbal rather than nonverbal intelligence in my profession. Many IQ tests like the Schlossen and the old SAT break down testing for aptitude into those two very broad categories. A " split" in scores is not unusual and people who are mathematicians, engineers, computer programmers, architects etc. typically have higher ability in nonverbal thinking and are often better at spatial reasoning than verbally dominant thinkers of a comparable IQ score. They would be more likely to look at the data from a different angle than simple temporal sequence.

One prominent exception would be Frederick Jackson Turner's famous " Frontier Thesis" which still is raised today, more than a century later, in graduate seminars to challenge students to reconceptualize their thinking. Another exception would be the theorists of Geopolitics, Sir Halford Mackinder and General Karl Haushofer, a field that is out of fashion with modern historians consumed with questions of race, gender and other postmodernist fads. Going back even further, to the dawn of the Enlightenment, Montesquieu hypothesized in his The Spirit of the Laws that national character and political economy were deeply influenced by the forces of climate and geography, an early attempt at scientific reasoning in history.

From Stuart Berman and Pundita:

"How would you rate Velikovsky?"

This question revealed the narrow horizon of my own educated incapacity since, despite being well read in my field and having communicated with professional historians for years, I had never come across Immanuel Velikovsky's name even once. So, I looked him up both pro and con.

Not having ever read one of his books, I'm poorly placed to evaluate Velikovsky but I understand why historians shunned his works in the era he was writing. Until very, very, recently, the historical profession gave about as much credence to oral traditions as the U.S. Supreme Court gives to hearsay evidence. Secondly, in the 1950's, the study of myths, legends, folklore were the stuff suitable for the English Department or perhaps the anthropologists but not historians, most of whom back then received their methodological grounding in the 1920's and 1930's. In that very traditional mindset, Velikovsky would never have even been considered relevant to their field.

Today however, if you scan the titles of papers at the more au courant history conferences, Velikovsky might even look quaint.
 
Comments:
I sent this story to my brother, who is training to be a geographer. He liked the geography-history connection, and commented

An interesting side note I
always thought history and (human) geography were like math and
science; seperate at lower levels but the higher one goes the closer
the subjects are.


-Dan tdaxp
 
Hey Dan

In some ways I'd have to agree with your brother. We're kind of habituated to thinking of the world in that mercator projection image from High school. The World doesn't look like that on the ground where wars were fought - you need something else ( Peters projection ? Your brother should know) to realize how goddamn BIG some places are.

Hitler's invasion of Russia looks kind of insane on a true size projection map and Belgium's colonization of the Congo is simply amazing - it's around 50 times larger !

A while back, not sure exactly when, the Geographical societies began promoting " The Five Fundamental Themes " of Geography - one of which was the concept of " Place". That fit rather neatly with the interests of cultural and social historians and the political types with an affinity for geopolitics
 
Hi Zenpundit,

While we are still talking spatially, I would like to engage in debate on one statement you made. You said, “political historian[‘]s [blind spot] is to think of history primarily in terms of time rather also than space or place.” Time gives history volume; volume is, by definition, space. Therefore by my way of thinking, historians are thinking spatially but may not understand that they are. By your comment do you mean to imply historians should be looking at place, meaning an area of our planet, instead of an area of history that occupies that spaced? With our country being cut in two between the need to colonize and the need to remain individuals, the distinction is minor but important. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but one of these days we will probably have to choose. Why not today?
My comment to Dan’s brother would be: there is only one science and that’s physics. Math is a tool of physics. I am not sure I understand how math and science get closer together. Maybe the learning curves of each get closer. The more physics you understand, the higher degree of math you need to be able to show what you understand? Newton needed Calculus so he invented it.
 
Hi Larry,

Time gives history volume; volume is, by definition, space. Therefore by my way of thinking, historians are thinking spatially but may not understand that they are

Absolutely!! I think that despite being concerned with determining and recording causation, few historians stop to ponder time/space. At most, the more martially minded consider the longitudinal costs of campaigns across vast distances. Economic historians too, are a cut above as a subgroup but most don't stop to think the implications through.

By your comment do you mean to imply historians should be looking at place, meaning an area of our planet, instead of an area of history that occupies that spaced?

Looking at place is one possibility. In general, I would like the profession to start entetaining the idea that we can use a variety of analytical perspectives in conjunction with traditional Rankean methodology and not keep treading the same tired ground.

With our country being cut in two between the need to colonize and the need to remain individuals, the distinction is minor but important. I don't mean to put you on the spot, but one of these days we will probably have to choose. Why not today?

I think there's a lot of historians who would say " colonize" but they would use that word in a different mental context, a strictly perjorative one, from the more neutral, definitional way I'm inferring that you are using it.(Ironically, the same group is also not high on individualism either)

My profession has reached the point, intellectually speaking, where posturing about controversial issues is the preferred career path to taking intellectual risks to engage them. We are at a nadir.

Larry, I can't tell you the number of ( mostly untenured) historians and pol sci people who have emailed me agreeing with me about some academic sacred cow I was skewering on H-Diplo but wouldn't touch the issue in public with a ten foot pole because it would attract politically motivated reprisals.

The Larry Summers case at Harvard was a rare public highlighting of this intellectual herd mentality in action. Summers is a powerful, well-connected, influential guy yet he was savaged. Imagine an unknown grad student or untenured prof trying to take on their local campus commissars. They can't.

This is why universitity life is becoming intellectually dead, particularly in the humanities.

Sorry to rant but I see it as a sign of civilizational decline.
 
I was looking for some AutoCAD training and found this new site for
auto cad training course along with your site. Have you seen this one yet?
 
Post a Comment

<< Home
Zenpundit - a NEWSMAGAZINE and JOURNAL of scholarly opinion.

My Photo
Name:
Location: Chicago, United States

" The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances as though they were realities" -- Machiavelli

Determined Designs Web Solutions Lijit Search
ARCHIVES
02/01/2003 - 03/01/2003 / 03/01/2003 - 04/01/2003 / 04/01/2003 - 05/01/2003 / 05/01/2003 - 06/01/2003 / 06/01/2003 - 07/01/2003 / 07/01/2003 - 08/01/2003 / 08/01/2003 - 09/01/2003 / 09/01/2003 - 10/01/2003 / 10/01/2003 - 11/01/2003 / 11/01/2003 - 12/01/2003 / 12/01/2003 - 01/01/2004 / 01/01/2004 - 02/01/2004 / 02/01/2004 - 03/01/2004 / 03/01/2004 - 04/01/2004 / 04/01/2004 - 05/01/2004 / 05/01/2004 - 06/01/2004 / 06/01/2004 - 07/01/2004 / 07/01/2004 - 08/01/2004 / 08/01/2004 - 09/01/2004 / 09/01/2004 - 10/01/2004 / 10/01/2004 - 11/01/2004 / 11/01/2004 - 12/01/2004 / 12/01/2004 - 01/01/2005 / 01/01/2005 - 02/01/2005 / 02/01/2005 - 03/01/2005 / 03/01/2005 - 04/01/2005 / 04/01/2005 - 05/01/2005 / 05/01/2005 - 06/01/2005 / 06/01/2005 - 07/01/2005 / 07/01/2005 - 08/01/2005 / 08/01/2005 - 09/01/2005 / 09/01/2005 - 10/01/2005 / 10/01/2005 - 11/01/2005 / 11/01/2005 - 12/01/2005 / 12/01/2005 - 01/01/2006 / 01/01/2006 - 02/01/2006 / 02/01/2006 - 03/01/2006 / 03/01/2006 - 04/01/2006 / 04/01/2006 - 05/01/2006 / 05/01/2006 - 06/01/2006 / 06/01/2006 - 07/01/2006 / 07/01/2006 - 08/01/2006 / 08/01/2006 - 09/01/2006 / 09/01/2006 - 10/01/2006 / 10/01/2006 - 11/01/2006 / 11/01/2006 - 12/01/2006 / 12/01/2006 - 01/01/2007 / 01/01/2007 - 02/01/2007 / 02/01/2007 - 03/01/2007 / 03/01/2007 - 04/01/2007 / 04/01/2007 - 05/01/2007 / 05/01/2007 - 06/01/2007 / 06/01/2007 - 07/01/2007 / 07/01/2007 - 08/01/2007 / 08/01/2007 - 09/01/2007 / 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007 / 10/01/2007 - 11/01/2007 / 11/01/2007 - 12/01/2007 /



follow zenpundit at http://twitter.com
This plugin requires Adobe Flash 9.
Get this widget!
Sphere Featured Blogs Powered by Blogger StatisfyZenpundit

Site Feed Who Links Here
Buzztracker daily image Blogroll Me!