Blogging Again with Deep History

Interdisciplinary History

Where in the world do you begin a blogpost about Daniel Lord Smail’s Deep History and the Brain? So many thoughts, tangents, and theories come to mind but I’ll try to limit myself to just a few points of interest. “The history of Man includes man everywhere and at all times.” (31) At first this seemed like a rather obvious statement, but after reading Smail’s evolution of the teaching of history and where history begins it is not as clear. History should include man at all times but if historians apply a start date to history then this naturally leaves out some human history and creates a prehistory. And the fact that creating a prehistory means historians are leaving out part of the human story. This is alarming because what if part of what we aren’t studying could explain more modern events, and as Robinson said, “the bare fact that there was such a period constitutes in itself the most momentous of historical discoveries.” (31) Certainly this period of time and human experience shouldn’t be left out of human history, should it? I think Smail makes it clear he believes it should not.

This leads us to the question of how best to include a period of time where no written works help historians explain what happened? And who cares? Interdisciplinary study is the answer. But to accomplish this historians and other disciplines need to be flexible and willing to work with others. Social Sciences, Biology, History, Anthropology, etc. are disciplinary fields where knowledge exist in frameworks of theory and thought and for interdisciplinary studies to work these “frames…must stretch and bend.” (43) As Smail says this will require historians to become more scientifically literate and for professionals in other fields to become more “historically minded.” (73) Seems easy enough but I wonder how much resistance there would be and where the most resistance would come from? Smail notes the important ways science and history interact in the New Neurodiversity chapter, stating “there is not much culture without biology” and that “civilization enabled important aspects of human biology.” (155) Keeping this in mind it would only seem natural that multiple disciplines are necessary to study any topic involving multiple fields (which would seemingly include any topic of human interest). Deep History is truly deep and the implications of such a course of study could radically change the way we view the past, but I think this may prove too unsettling for some.