A Deeper Sense of History

When introducing deep history, Daniel Lord Small discussed two ideas that I see as particularly fertile both intellectually and in terms of cultural perspective.  The first is that of a unique, new interdisciplinarity that would link “physical and life sciences” to social sciences and the humanities (Small 2008, 9).  Considering history through the ‘”reciprocally creative relationship’” that comes from the interchange between the biological, behavioral, and cognitive elements of the human mind and human culture creates more nuanced understandings of the symbiosis of culture and biology (Small 2008, 8).

This interplay reminds me of environmental philosophy, particularly the idea that there is continuity between culture and nature rather than a natural division, or dualism, that became established through Enlightenment views of nature, human mastery, and Cartesian separation of brain and body.  Related indirectly to this sense of interdisciplinarity is what Small calls “ghost theories,” which he describes as “old ideas that continue to structure our thinking without our being fully aware of their controlling presence” (Small 2008, 3).  Small suggests that these entrenched ways of thinking about history frame and limit the understanding of the world, particularly the richness of the human world.  These ideas call into question the way that knowledge and the control of knowledge function in general, as well as in historical scholarship.

For instance, the idea that documents and writing have more credibility as scholarly historical evidence than do artifacts or oral stories parallels issues in indigenous studies, and even Foucauldian concepts, that show that ways of knowing have been hierarchized in dominant Western thought.  When non-dominant forms of thinking, living, and being are acknowledged through those studies, it is possible to see the world in a new light that includes elements overlooked through the predominant perspective.  By joining biology and culture to the world of history in a non-presentist manner, a new, deep sense of historical continuity can develop that might open our eyes to more elements of history and of the present.

3 thoughts on “A Deeper Sense of History”

  1. I love that you made a comparison to environmental philosophy…I was actually thinking during this reading that Smail’s suggestions not only sound within the realm of possibility, but also are what make subdisciplines such as Environmental History possible. Without the sciences, this area of the field couldn’t exist. Similarly, historians can never get the full picture of deep history if they are not open to interdisciplinary work and the other evidence–outside of written records–that is available.

  2. Hi Melissa,

    I also found Smail’s “ghost theories” concept particularly interesting and thinking about how the Biblical Deluge story has informed much of the way we conceive of ruptures in history is kind of inducing a “mind-blown” moment. I’m going to refer to your blog post in class because I think you have made some connections that will help answer the “who cares?” question about this week’s topic.


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