IBARW and History
I'm not committing to daily posts against racism, despite it being Blog Against Racism Week, but this post from the current History Carnival is one I find interesting, and not necessarily in a good way. Andrew Ross asks:
Do members of oppressed groups today have special access on the past of those groups? In other words, do gay people or Black people, have a special claim to an understanding of the gay or Black past?
yeah, I'm afraid so.
This is one of those times I'm glad I study what I do. There was a time when most of the secondary material in my field was written in a way that both claimed and helped to reinforce this idea of special insight (thank you, Ranke, et al.). I'm honestly not sure if it's as true in the historiography of England or Western Francia/France, but pretty much everything I've read on Eastern Francia written before 1950 (and a good bit of stuff written afterwards by people trained before WWII) relies on circular arguments that rely pretty much on a "but of course it was that way because we Germans are like that and they were like that too!" argument. For me, this often means that the secondary sources contain really good information wrapped in analysis that only a fool would accept at face value. (Still ... German MSS editing! = no paleography!)
But apart from crazed German nationalist historians, it's pretty easy to be a medievalist -- and I think it's easier the earlier one goes. OK, yeah, we've got to do the languages and the funny writing (sometimes) and we have to use a much broader range of relatively fewer sources ... but we really are in 'the past is a different country' land. We don't have to worry about identifying with the people we study in the way Ross discusses. We try to understand them and make them more understandable to others, but that's different. Because Ross is wrong about this. In fact, I would argue that what he sees as being better insight is just a faster way to bad history. We don't have to try to make what we do "meaningful for the 21st c.", because we know it's just meaningful, period.