- Apr 2018
- Upland, Sweden
Interesting post, not sure I buy the premiär entirely, but interesting nonetheless.As the history I've read gets wider I'm noticing a recurring pattern where historians focus on communities that are 'complex' and 'advanced', how these societies become complex, and so on. It seems to me like this is a hold-over from the days when we were obsessed with how smart we are, and how we were able to create such specialized societies.
And yet I think we've now reached the take-home consensus that 'complex' communities are a product of technology, climate, and ecology. There's nothing particularly special about civilization, other than that a specific set of conditions in specific locales allowed it to take place.
So what I wonder is:
Say in theory history moved on from this kind of hyper-focus on civilization, what would come next for the field? What kind of inquiry would be relevant?
I have a few questions:
1) is it really so strange to be obsessed with how smart we are? Isn't it this "smartyness" that got us here?
2) there seems to me to be a lot more to study in civilizations than in more primitive cultures. You simply have more stuff to focus on.
Here is where I disagree with you: on the One hand you say "there is nothing special about civilisation", in the other hand you use technology as an example of something that gave rise to it. Well, where did it come from? Did God say in the beginning "there shalt be means of production? What is your position, that technology is just a product of trial and error and therefore "doesn't count" as a cultural phenomenon? Not sure I follow.
I'm skeptical towards this too great focus on exogenous factors. Culture matters, and individual actions matter. I don't think you can just reduce all civilisations to "civilisation", much of what I find interesting as an aspiring historian is the cultural differences between different kinds of civilisations and what happens when they interact... These parterns seem to me inseparable from the more basic things like geography, ecology, biology, arguably technology as well, and just like they are influenced by these things you describe which a Marxist would call "the base" these cultural factors also influence "the base" in turn. Perhaps more so the more advanced a society becomes?
To answer your question: I can't see any other line of inquiry outside of understanding cultures and civilisations which is relevant for a historian. That doesn't mean you can't integrate for example evolutionary biology or ecological science or in the future maybe data science into the understanding of history. But the study of civilisations are not moving away I think, far from it. I'd say given how homogenous so many social processes are becoming around the world, hell, sociologists and economists might actually be able to use their methodologies to understand something for a chance ...