Kevin Gannon the Tattooed Professor went on a rant recently about the nature of historical knowledge and explanatory independent variables. Here is one of his pithier observations about how facts become historical facts:
In other words, the stuff that happened in the past isn’t by itself history. History is when that stuff–which is promoted to the level of “historical facts” by the historian–gets processed and interpreted. The stuff that happened, yet didn’t make this cut, remains in the ephemeral realm of just plain old “facts.” A pithy example used by Carr nicely illustrates this distinction. Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon: THIS IS IMPORTANT. Julius Agricolus the small-time farmer crosses the Rubicon: who gives a shit? (I took some liberties with Carr’s phrasing.)
Because he is on a rant, he can’t resist a temptation to take a potshot at us social scientists by observing:
Each of us as individuals are still fundamentally interconnected to one another through the structures and systems that we’ve inherited. There are no independent variables.***
Which is followed by footnote:
***Sorry, social scientists. But it’s true.
It looks like the professor with a custom paint job has been reading his classical sociology/anthropology quite carefully! Marx, Weber, and maybe even Durkheim would agree with Gannon. I just wish that the quantitative sorts with their obsessive search for the ever more statistically significant independent variable would also return to such basics.
Tony Waters is czar and editor of Ethnography.com. He came to us from the Sociology department at California State University at Chico where he has been a professor since 1996. In 2016 though he suddenly found himself with a new gig at Payap University in northern Thailand where he is on the faculty of the Peace Studies Department. He has also been a guest professor in Germany, and Tanzania. In the past, his main interests have been international development and refugees in Thailand, Tanzania, and California. This reflects a former career in the Peace Corps (Thailand), and refugee camps (Thailand and Tanzania). His books include: Crime and Immigrant Youth (1999), Bureaucratizing the Good Samaritan (2001), The Persistence of Subsistence Agriculture: Life Beneath of the Marketplace (2007), When Killing is a Crime (2007), and Schooling, Bureaucracy, and Childhood: Bureaucratizing the Child (2012). His hobby is trying to learn strange languages–and the mistakes that that implies. Tony is a prolific academic, you can read more of his work at academia.edu.or purchase one (or more!) of his books from Amazon.com.