History and Historians, Ivory Towers

O Historians!

How Crafty? So Crafty

Duke it Out
Remember when we were talking about how crafty historians are?* Well, other, smarter people have been having the same great idea. Let me fill you in…

Michèle Lamont, author of How Professors Think, has been guest-blogging over at Crooked Timber, and in between trolling the philosophers**, she’s got a post up comparing the cultures of evaluation amongst historians and economists. Her discussion is not much different than the previous bit in the Chronicle of Higher Ed, but the comments are worth a whirl, if only to massage our collective disciplinary egos. My favorite so far is this:

“But—in my limited experience with them—I also think historians respect a strong, clear writing style … That stylistic aspect of the particular craft ethic would also further buttress skepticism about theory per se, etc.

Oh, you — little ole us, concerned with narrative and skeptical of theory? Too kind, too kind. But now we’re blushing.***

The economists … come off less well; almost as poorly as the philosophers, in fact. Apparently an intense devotion to mathematical formalism and the appearance of rudeness don’t win you friends among sociologists and political theorists. Who knew?

In a related story, now economists are admitting that what they do is really sociology. Arguments about how useful a rigidly quantitative approach to human life is aside, I would say this is an example of irony trending toward self-parody. Who else but a practitioner of a relentlessly colonizing system of thought, known for their naive working assumptions and bold claims about eternal human nature, could be startled by the fact that the field’s mission-creep means that it’s started to occupy ground already well-tilled by others? I expect soon they’ll be announcing that they’ve invented a form of punctured spheroid that can be attached to an axle for easier locomotion.

* Also: man, I’ve been at this about 3X longer than I thought I would be
** Which, incidentally is a great name for a prog rock band.
*** At least I am; though nothing in the post or comments settles the debate over whether its historians’ writing or evidentiary care that make for their craft. My impression from the comments — the one I’ve cited aside — is that these folks mean we value our evidence and argument, not coruscating verbiage.

Image cite: Okinawa Soba, “Two Award-Winning Flickr Photographers Duke It Out,” Flickr, CC License