Thursday, October 27, 2022


A Stern-Minded Lady

Chester G. Starr, "The History of the Roman Empire 1911-1960," Journal of Roman Studies 50.1-2 (1960) 149-160 (at 149):
History is the study of past events, but it is written and rewritten by men and women living in the present. However secluded we may be in library, study, or lecture hall, however oblivious the scholar may appear to the rush of contemporary life, our views of the past are deeply affected by our concerns in the present and by our expectations for the future....Among the recent events which have affected men of reflective minds, the demands of fiercely insistent political creeds have often had unpleasant results. Conscious or unconscious disregard of those historical standards which are one of our greatest inheritances from the nineteenth century can be found even in the product of good scholars.
Id. (at 151):
The study of any part of past human development which is directly motivated by present concerns often lies on, or close to, the lunatic fringe of scholarship, whether it be religious, nationalistic, or ideological in impetus.
Id. (at 152):
The fundamental unity of modern Western civilization is a concept about which much nonsense, and a little firm thinking, now revolves; and many of us realize that the Western outlook is not the only possible view of the world.
Id. (at 153):
Historians of the Empire have been affected not only by changing views of the place of Western civilization but also by new developments within it. I shall take up here only one example, which may serve for many others. The creation, thus, of new techniques for social research and the proliferation of the social studies have attracted a host of practitioners, many of whom still try recurrently to turn themselves into complete scientists. Those of their techniques which are based upon polls, anthropological field studies, high-speed computers, and the like cannot be applied in any degree to the Roman Empire; and a stubborn conservative, bred in the tradition of individual contemplation, may be grateful that this is true.
Id. (at 153-154):
I would not have the reader judge that I belong to the school of subjective, idealistic historiography. History, though fashioned by men who inevitably react to contemporary passions and concerns, is basically a reconstruction of past actuality. Clio is a stern-minded lady, who insistently drags her followers back to concrete facts, specifically located in time and space; and our effort must ever be to reanimate those facts soberly, yet with imagination.
Id. (at 158):
The study of intellectual history, I fear, sometimes looks too easy. It cannot be treated by cataloguing authors or establishing the existence of sententiae which are borrowed and adapted from generation to generation. The activity of an age cannot be understood if it is chopped into neat segments, labelled Social Life, Religious Movements, and the like. Investigators in this field must have firm general ideas as a basic framework, but must support their concepts by very extensive and very precise detailed investigation. And they ignore political and economic developments only at the great risk of producing spineless, weak interpretations.
Id. (at 159, footnote omitted):
Too many students in this field have taken refuge in the treatment of detailed problems solely for their own sake. This is a common characteristic of contemporary scholarship in many areas. In a world so beset by uncertainty, in which old standards have tottered, many of us have sought to gain our own security of mind by working in parvo. The consequences are dangerous. As specialists in numismatics, epigraphy, military archaeology and a host of other narrow ranges, we grow less able to speak to each other on a general common ground.

<< Home
Newer›  ‹Older

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?