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Finding Ourselves

There are a thousand insidious ways in which you can come to identify with the object of study. … It’s reassuring, because identifying with something, no matter how it happens, offers a kind of relief. But it’s dangerous because this mirroring of the self stunts the imagination, inhibits the mind and stifles curiosity by confining […]

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Encounter with death

…history remains first and foremost an encounter with death. A. Farge, The Allure of the Archive, 8

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Archival Research

I am reminded of how much the setting for my archival research has become entwined with the discoveries I made at its tables. N. Zemon Davis, “Forward,” The Allure of the Archive (Yale, 2013), xiii.

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Historians too are explorers

…we must be aware of a danger well known to explorers of both the micro- and the macrocosmic—that of confusing the thing observed with the mind of the observer, of constructing not a picture of external reality but simply a mirror of the thinker. Edward Abbey, Desert Solitaire (New York, 1968), 240

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Things, ca. 1927

Things are what we encounter, ideas are what we project. Leo Stein, The A-B-C of Aesthetics (NY, 1927), 44

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A Distorted Picture

Modern man has formed a curiously distorted picture of himself, by interpreting his early history in terms of his present interests in making machines and conquering nature. And then in turn he has justified his present concerns by calling his prehistoric self a tool-making animal, and assuming that the material instruments of production dominate all […]

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Facts Are Never Enough

Scientists hope to dispel antiscience prejudices by better science education, and pundits hope to sway public opinion on issues like Obamacare or global warming by presenting the public with accurate facts and expert reports. Such hopes are grounded in a misunderstanding of how humans actually think. Most of our views are shaped by communal groupthink […]

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Disciplinary Histories from Within

Disciplinary history written from within that discipline tends to be not only teleological but also parochial and hagiographical. Most importantly, disciplinary history written from within that discipline tends to be unprofessional, in the sense that it is written by scholars who have been trained in the discipline that they are studying but not in the […]