"Historical" Clubs


Gerard J Fitzgerald <gjf@...>
 

So is the use of the word club here also to be seen as a metaphor?

At the risk of giving our moderator a headache or continuing a ?discussion?
that may best be left alone I feel morally compelled to share a few of my
thoughts on historical practice and truth (and even truthiness?). This will
no doubt put me in jail if this leads to a week of debate but here goes?

Reading some of the comments on historical preservation and practice left me
both bewildered and a little bit sad. Whenever folks on this list talk about
the philosophy of historical practice I always come away with the feeling that
the worldview of some freight car modelers is much too deterministic. While
this is interesting it has nothing whatsoever to do with what historians are
doing. Historians in general and historians of technology and economics in
particular moved through determinism decades ago.

As a point of information let me note that I will be teaching a graduate seminar
this fall on historical methods here at Penn and the theme for the readings will
involve American industrialization in the south post 1865. One of the primary
objectives of such a course is to expose graduate students to the
methodological and historiographic tools used by their future colleagues. One
of the first things you cover in such a course is that history is not a
science. It is at best a social science and just as much a member of the
Liberal Arts. Looking to the hard sciences for ways to interpret historical
evidence is where Ranke began modern history at the end of the 19th century and
such an approach today is at best problematic and at worst naïve and even
dangerous. Interpretation is the driving force of historical practice assuming
a researcher has followed nominal methodological procedures.

Regarding ?truth? (whatever that might be???)? historians would never use
such a term. To do so would get you laughed out of a room at an academic
meeting. This is both because of the epistemological ramifications involved and
also because of the complexity of cultural matrix in which an object, person, or
event might have existed. I say this because the path taken by the material
culture theorists who help guide museum studies and historic preservation begin
with these concepts and apply them to the door knobs, test tubes and freight
cars that make up museum exhibits. As one person noted, artifacts are used
primarily to tell a ?broader and more important story than any inherent to
the car itself.? That is why they are restored and displayed. That has
certainly been my professional experiences at the Smithsonian thus far. As with
everything else I have said this is all very complicated and is difficult to
cover in a few sentences. Let me conclude by noting that it is important to
remember that philosophical and historiographic questions involved in
determining what constitutes an ?authentic? artifact is one that has and
will continue to confound historians and museum curators. Also, and perhaps
more importantly philosophical terms such as ?truth? have no relevance when
discussing the historical contextualization of an object (and that includes
freight cars). I think some of you might want to read more Foucault or Hayden
White (and maybe even William Faulkner) and maybe a little less Ranke and
Thucydides. I hope this has helped. Reading this discussion has certainly
frightened me and given me ideas about what to do with my seminar reading list.

All the best

Gerry

Dr. Gerard J. Fitzgerald
Department of History-University of Pennsylvania
2006 Hass Postdoctoral Fellow in the History of the Chemical Sciences
Chemical Heritage Foundation


rrhistorian
 

Hello all,

Again - another very insightful post (one of the reasons I like this
board)

One of the primary
objectives of such a course is to expose graduate students to the
methodological and historiographic tools used by their future
colleagues. One
of the first things you cover in such a course is that history is not a
science. It is at best a social science and just as much a member of the
Liberal Arts.
As a person who has degrees in both history and sociology, who is
writing works that fall both in history and historical sociology, and
who is currently working closely with my University's railroad
engineering program - I tend to bring multiple lenses to the table
when doing historical research. As I see it, doing physical
documentation on a given piece of equipment is critical for creating
'data points' the lettering, lettering style, paint, evidence of
repairs on a single car may not be that significant. It also emulates
the ethic that guides archivists - information is saved not because
the archivist wants to do research - but because it has the potential
to allow future generations to ask future questions. However to a
person doing a history of a particular car-line, shop, railroad, etc -
a single car may be very significant. Additionally, when the data
from one car is compared with the same information gathered from other
cars it provides a basis from which to begin to assess trends.

I am certain that at this point many of the modelers are reading this
and thinking WHO CARES. The modelers should care if they want to
ensure that the data on freight cars that exists in railroad documents
in archives and personal collections, as well as notes, and even
models - will survive a generation from now. There may or may not be
a next generation of modelers who will follow in the footsteps of the
current and past generations. The current trend suggests that there
won't - and I frankly that this is something that is beyond our
collective control. However, the history of science and technology is
a growing field both in the US and abroad. The history of freight
cars, how and why they were built and when and where they were used,
provides a rich story with which to understand how a major industry
(railroads) used attempted to technology (through freight cars) to
adjust to the changing demands of other industries, modal competition,
and regulatory regimes.

Museums have a potential to tap into this demand by both collecting
and storing (or partnering with other institutions to store) data
gathered by physical documentation and by displaying objects (freight
cars) that are restored to reflect both their current configuration
and information gathered through the documentation process.

Conversely, the growing interest in the history of science and
technology could just as easily skip over freight cars and railroad
history entirely. Very few libraries own Mainline Modeler, Prototype
Modeler and other well researched magazines or other literature that
are staples of modelers' bookshelves (such as color guides).

It is much easier to research other topics (such as auto or aircraft
manufacture, or textiles) where there is ample literature accessible
that makes the learning curve much less steep – and where there are
museums that doing a good job in attempting to be accurate in their
restorations, store physical documentation, and bring it together
through interpretation.

Tom Cornillie


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

Gerard J Fitzgerald wrote:
Looking to the hard sciences for ways to interpret historical
evidence is where Ranke began modern history at the end of the 19th
century and
such an approach today is at best problematic and at worst naïve and
even
dangerous. Interpretation is the driving force of historical practice
assuming
a researcher has followed nominal methodological procedures.
Regarding ?truth? (whatever that might be???)? historians would never
use
such a term. To do so would get you laughed out of a room at an
academic
meeting.
This is fine, but let's see if this matters for how freight cars
are painted at museums. History is not science, nor is it "facts;" the
famous analogy is that an accumulation of facts is like a pile of
bricks: it's not a house. History makes A house (each historian will
put the bricks together differently). But that is not the topic of what
was said so far. What was said so far, as I understood it, was about
authentic bricks. I don't see how you can, for example, paint or modify
an artifact like a freight car in a way which is not representative of
its origins, and still use it as a brick. Otherwise, bricks are only
what historians choose: they can invent bricks to please themselves.
That might sit well with Foucault but not with most people.
I think you are confusing museum practice with the practice of
history. They are of course allied, or should be, but do not always
have the same goals. Playing games with question marks around "truth"
doesn't help the discussion, though perhaps it would get you some
applause in that room at an academic meeting.

Anthony Thompson
Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering
University of California, Berkeley
thompsonmarytony@...


Thomas Baker
 

When museums paint artifacts, such as cars or depots, as they "think" or "would like" them to be without careful research, then they have crossed over to "inventing" history. Such practice is of course not unknown in even in the academic world. Painting a business car red, as the Illinois Railway Museum has done for CGW business car 99 probably will not create a dangerous myth, as do some "inventions" of modern historians. It is, nevertheless, careless research. In the practical matter of getting a color or lettering schme "right," something can and should be done. It is regrettable that such does not always happen.

Tom

________________________________

From: STMFC@... on behalf of Anthony Thompson
Sent: Mon 5/22/2006 11:03 AM
To: STMFC@...
Subject: Re: [STMFC] "Historical" Clubs



Gerard J Fitzgerald wrote:
Looking to the hard sciences for ways to interpret historical
evidence is where Ranke began modern history at the end of the 19th
century and
such an approach today is at best problematic and at worst naïve and
even
dangerous. Interpretation is the driving force of historical practice
assuming
a researcher has followed nominal methodological procedures.
Regarding ?truth? (whatever that might be???)? historians would never
use
such a term. To do so would get you laughed out of a room at an
academic
meeting.
This is fine, but let's see if this matters for how freight cars
are painted at museums. History is not science, nor is it "facts;" the
famous analogy is that an accumulation of facts is like a pile of
bricks: it's not a house. History makes A house (each historian will
put the bricks together differently). But that is not the topic of what
was said so far. What was said so far, as I understood it, was about
authentic bricks. I don't see how you can, for example, paint or modify
an artifact like a freight car in a way which is not representative of
its origins, and still use it as a brick. Otherwise, bricks are only
what historians choose: they can invent bricks to please themselves.
That might sit well with Foucault but not with most people.
I think you are confusing museum practice with the practice of
history. They are of course allied, or should be, but do not always
have the same goals. Playing games with question marks around "truth"
doesn't help the discussion, though perhaps it would get you some
applause in that room at an academic meeting.

Anthony Thompson
Dept. of Materials Science & Engineering
University of California, Berkeley
thompsonmarytony@...




Yahoo! Groups Links


SUVCWORR@...
 

In a message dated 5/22/2006 11:35:49 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time,
thompson@... writes:

This is fine, but let's see if this matters for how freight cars
are painted at museums. History is not science, nor is it "facts;" the
famous analogy is that an accumulation of facts is like a pile of
bricks: it's not a house. History makes A house (each historian will
put the bricks together differently). But that is not the topic of what
was said so far. What was said so far, as I understood it, was about
authentic bricks. I don't see how you can, for example, paint or modify
an artifact like a freight car in a way which is not representative of
its origins, and still use it as a brick. Otherwise, bricks are only
what historians choose: they can invent bricks to please themselves.
That might sit well with Foucault but not with most people.
I think you are confusing museum practice with the practice of
history. They are of course allied, or should be, but do not always
have the same goals. Playing games with question marks around "truth"
doesn't help the discussion, though perhaps it would get you some
applause in that room at an academic meeting.



Tony,

You are never going to win this. From the previous comments it is very
clear that the revisionist historian philosophy is being espoused. That is the
'historians" are free to reshape the data in any manner as long as it
supports their hypothesis. Draw a conclusion and make the facts fit the
conclusion. The antithesis of the scientific method. And those of us who care that
facts be facts which are not subject to interpretation but rather allow one to
understand the entire picture recognize this philosophy which is rampant
among today's alleged historians. It is back dated social engineering that
allows what is politically correct today (i.e. expedient) to change the facts of
the past.

Rich Orr


Anthony Thompson <thompson@...>
 

Rich Orr wrote:
You are never going to win this. From the previous comments it is very clear that the revisionist historian philosophy is being espoused. That is the 'historians" are free to reshape the data in any manner as long as it supports their hypothesis. Draw a conclusion and make the facts fit the conclusion. The antithesis of the scientific method. And those of us who care that facts be facts which are not subject to interpretation but rather allow one to understand the entire picture recognize this philosophy which is rampant among today's alleged historians. It is back dated social engineering that allows what is politically correct today (i.e. expedient) to change the facts of the past.
Not a bad (if hostile) summary of Mr. Foucault and friends. You are right that those who accept this view that "historical conclusions are all personal" probably could not care less about what we call "accuracy" on this list.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@...
Publishers of books on railroad history


mrslandser
 

OUTSTANDING response and summation!

Professor H. L. Hanger
MCC

Anthony Thompson <thompson@...> wrote:
Rich Orr wrote:
You are never going to win this. From the previous comments it is
very clear that the revisionist historian philosophy is being
espoused. That is the 'historians" are free to reshape the data in
any manner as long as it supports their hypothesis. Draw a
conclusion and make the facts fit the conclusion. The antithesis of
the scientific method. And those of us who care that facts be facts
which are not subject to interpretation but rather allow one to
understand the entire picture recognize this philosophy which is
rampant among today's alleged historians. It is back dated social
engineering that allows what is politically correct today (i.e.
expedient) to change the facts of the past.
Not a bad (if hostile) summary of Mr. Foucault and friends. You
are right that those who accept this view that "historical conclusions
are all personal" probably could not care less about what we call
"accuracy" on this list.

Tony Thompson Editor, Signature Press, Berkeley, CA
2906 Forest Ave., Berkeley, CA 94705 www.signaturepress.com
(510) 540-6538; fax, (510) 540-1937; e-mail, thompson@...
Publishers of books on railroad history



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