I agree with you and Laura that there are certainly many forms of language other than verbal. I also think its human nature to try and separate itself from the animal world, nature may be a poor choice of words here. I like the example you used of how we as humans communicate with dogs. Dogs respond to yelling and loud noises but not with the same effect they do of an intense stare. Be careful with staring at strange dogs who may not believe you are the Alpha in a given situation! In this example the dog is directly communicating with you in a way that is easily understood – get ready to run! I think here the human has not merely interacted with the dog but that the dog may have taken the initiative. Sorry for the rambling but your idea and examples made me think of many situations where communication between humans and animals is nonverbal and understood by both parties. Thanks Kate!
I agree that it is difficult to know when we project human-like qualities and feelings onto animals and when they are exercising agency. It seems like a human definition of what animals are doing when they make decisions, and I find myself wanting to separate the two groups animals vs. human. I think from reading this and other posts this is a mistake. The two groups cannot be separated and are in an interaction with one another, each defining and affecting the others role. Thanks Laura!
Overcoming self importance is certainly a problem for humans in general. We live in a very self/human centered world and moving away from this way of thinking is difficult and perhaps even uncomfortable. As Walker mentions, only when faced with death to many humans ever realize they are not at the top of the food chain, even though it is something most learn at some point early in life. As far as answering the philosophical question of “who are we” it seems illogical not to include the natural world and the organism in it. I think they would play a role in the defining the human race or explaining our existence.
Don’t fret, all our brains may not be operating at the optimum level at this time of the year. As to the questions in your last point, I think that what makes history so interesting to study is that we may never know enough to get a clear and accurate picture of the past. This doesn’t mean that any efforts to create understanding or meaning from the past is pointless or impossible (not that I think you were implying this). I also think an interdisciplinary approach to any history, deep or not, adds value and increases not only our level of understanding but also our knowledge base as scholars. My dad used to always tell me you can’t beat a man at what he knows, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the experience and walk away better off than you were before the encounter. At the time I thought my dad was talking about a specific trade or mechanics but I think the idea is an appropriate way to think about interdisciplinary studies.
In some ways I agree with Smail’s assertion that cultural development is beyond our control and largely left to chance or natural selection, but I do not think the notion of historical progress will disappear anytime soon. It is also hard to imagine humans unseating themselves from their pedestal. As a field, and perhaps a species, we tend to think of ourselves as the center of things for better or worse. I don’t believe this is necessarily a good thing but it is one that seems unlikely to change. I also find the discussion of primates and animals having their culture and history that develops and changes over time and the possible parallels between animal and human cultural evolution.
I think there will always be those in any field that are resistant to change, especially some of the ones mentioned previously in the semester. However, as we have also seen there are historians out there willing to adopt new technology and ideas to further the field. I personally think that a interdisciplinary approach to any subject leads to the most complete story and also to the possibility of new results. In the future I hope more programs like STS and ASPECT become staples within academia. As Stephen Berry said in his Future of Civil War studies Forum, it’s time to stop being a Luddite and embrace new technologies.
I would agree that gender and the categories of men and women are indeed unstable. Even when they seem to have a concrete definition individual situations can alter this understanding. In the case of a biography, or autobiography, individual identity can skew the meanings of gender. A persons understanding of their gender role may not match the greater social construct of acceptable gender relations. Acknowledging these differences and trying to include a discussion of gender relations is a very real challenge for historians. As you mention, gender adds a dimension to understanding power relationships that help define and analyze a topic more fully.
I agree that histories should include gender relationships when possible, but as you mention it is difficult to explain these relationships where sources do not exist. One way to possibly include the stories of the invisible could be to focus on the relationships between the sexes. Perhaps if gender includes men and women then some evidence of these relationships may be found in available sources, even in cases where the sources are male centered. Thanks!
I agree that gender is a difficult concept to grasp. It is too often seen as referring only to women and not a relationship between the sexes. Understanding these relationships adds depth to any study because even when the opposite sex is not obviously present the influence they have can never be fully removed (even if it sometimes ignored). If you include some of the relationships and identities from our LGBTQ course the conversation about gender gets even more complex!
I wish I had read Eley’s pages regarding Steedman before reading “Landscape.” I think I would have looked at the work differently and perhaps have looked for a bigger meaning in her captivating style and narrative. I cannot remember ever reading something like Steedman for a history class, and this made it hard for me to place it in a historical context. I think she uses her and her mother’s story to examine the the servant/working class and gender. Claire’s post helped me see how the story fit into a larger historical context and to see past the brutal honesty of her writing and narrative. I still think the book helped Steedman deal with her relationship with her mother and childhood, but I don’t think that takes away from its historical relevance. I’m not sure I answered any of your questions so maybe we will see some more ideas on the blog! Thanks!