[Peter Novick] That Noble Dream The 'Objectivity uestion' and the American Historical Profession Ideas in Context [architecture Book] PDF

Peter Novick Æ 7 Summary

CenturyDrawing on the unpublished correspondence as well as the published writings of hundreds of American historians from J Franklin Jameson and Charles Beard to Arthur Schlesinger Jr and Eugene Genovese That Nobel Dream is a richly textured account of what American historians have thought they were doing o Read this for grad class on theory much like most of the other reviewers on here I wholeheartedly agree with most of the previous reviewers that no one in their right mind read not in a history grad program should have any inclination or desire to pick this up Now I personally detest theory my soul dies a little every time I go to my class dedicated to it but I enjoyed this book This may be the first theory centric book that I did not daydream about torching While I struggle to see how much of the theory we study influences or fits into my own work Novick s in depth discussion of the objectivity uestion is highly relevant I think to all historians regardless of specialization or focus Maybe particularly because we insist on having specialization and focus It s a history of historians thinking about history and that s just so rarely exciting but Novick does a good job of examining the idea of objectivity from all angles something that historians really do need to think about A good short companion piece to this is Thomas Haskill s wonderful review After reading Novick Haskill puts into words exactly what about Novick s argument makes you uncomfortable but then shows why that s kind of okay

Summary That Noble Dream The 'Objectivity uestion' and the American Historical Profession Ideas in Context

That Noble Dream The 'Objectivity uestion' and the American Historical Profession Ideas in Context

The aspiration to relate the past as it really happened has been the central goal of American professional historians since the late 19th century In this remarkable history of the profession Peter Novick shows how the idea and ideal of objectivity were elaborated challenged modified and defended over the last Novick gives a fantastic analysis of the changing views on the uestions of objectivity and subjectivity in American historiography How Novick a European historian could write so comprehensively and with such depth and for almost 650 pages is amazingHe is admittedly a historicist which he says means simply that thinking about anything in the past is primarily shaped by my understanding of its role within a particular historical context and in the stream of history 7 I was glad to hear him define it that way because historicism usually means that history is to be explained solely in terms of naturalistic historical causation which is a sophisticated way of saying that the historian has an anti supernatural bias But that doesn t come into play so much on the uestion of what American historians think about the objectivity uestionNovick begins with the original objectivity project of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries when historians thought they were following Leopold von Ranke s dictum of telling history wie es eigentlich gewesen as it really was Turns out that Ranke wasn t a pure objectivist who was only trying to be empirically faithful to his sources Ranke meant telling history not so much as it really was but as it essentially eigentlich was This meant that through history we access the essences of things which is a Romantic than scientific viewRegardless the pure objectivist school thought that the purpose of historiography was the scinetific sel elimination of the historian from the task of researching and presenting history The historian went into the library the way the scientist enters the laboratory He collected the facts which spoke through the historian who was merely a kind of secretary taking dictation Studies would proceed until all texts and artifacts would have interpreted themselves and historians would have put themselves out of a job Hard to believe but Novick painstaking documents itThen come the new historians Fredrick Jackson Turner Carl Becker and Charles Beard whose work spanned pre and post WWI They hit a nerve when they pointed out that WWI exposed the fact that the Enlightenment victory of Reason didn t happen They also revealed that far from being objective most historians had been involved in WWI propaganda pretending that the allies were good little boys on the way to Sunday school when the evil German bullies picked a fightBecker and Beard made it impossible for historians to to go back to their pre war confidence in objectivity Then came the expansion of professional history where objectivity was a function of academic PhD programs whose graduates went on to work for the Allies of World War II Once again American historians aligned themselves with their national power which didn t encourage their critical faculties Speaking the truth to power only meant providing sobering military intelligence and lessons from the past not necessarily telling the truth to power about power In other words historians knew who buttered their bread After the war historians tended to succumb to the temptation to justify Allied actions which sometimes meant concealing the whole story or unrealistic appraisals of FDR and Churchill The new objectivity was not about personal detachment but about being on the right side the side of the West which now included America This is also when the Western Civ class was bornNovick points out that Christian historians like Kenneth Scott Latourette acknowledged their Christian view of history and defended it as superior to naturalistic and relativistic notions from historicism Novick points out that they were better than most who tried to keep their ideological commitments a secret This was also the age of purportedly objective journalism which Novick explodes with admissions from the journalists themselves Other historians like Karl Popper and Richard Hofstader abandoned old objectivist notions of detachment and self elimination for much honest self examination and historical complexity They argued that historiography was objective and scientific in so far as its claims were falsifiable positing a kind of normed objectivism With the advent of the sixties every group became their own historians as black and feminist historiography privileged the newly liberated perspectives of those who had suffered as part of their social group Partisan scholarship proudly dealt objectivity another blowChapter fifteen tells the story of the postmodern resurrection of subjectivity and the demise of almost any meaningful notion of objectivity Historicism and relativism had taught historians to bracket moral uestions and merely be faithful to the sources but Thomas Kuhn s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions 1962 took the issue of subjectivity even further Kuhn following Michael Polanyi argued that science doesn t take place in the abstract but within a paradigm A paradigm is an accepted model that is by its very nature freighted with worldview commitments promoted by the current scientific orthodoxy Polanyi argued that science and dogma are not antithetical but are in the experience of the scientist wed together in a committed relationship The scientific community enforces the paradigm to control dissent and promote indoctrination Thus science is no cure for subjectivity a lesson that the current crop of new atheists like R Dawkins hasn t learned According to Kuhn however scientific revolutions can and do take place suddenly when the old paradigm like Newtonian physics is overthrown by a new paradigm like Einsteinian physics which accounts for the problems encountered under of previous paradigmMichel Foucault expanded the idea of the paradigm to the episteme which included relationships between the sciences and between the sciences and the culture at large Together they enforce an oppressive regime of truth in societyRichard Rorty argued in unison with the new paradigm against stable foundations of any kind With that foundation suarely in place his antifoundationalism left us only with a common solidarity in an ongoing conversation Rorty said What matters is our loyalty to other human beings clinging together against the dark not our hope of getting things right Our glory is in our participation in fallible and transitory human projects not in our obedience to permanent nonhuman constraints 541 I wonder if he was attempting to get things right Novick points out that Rorty urged the substitution of solidarity for objectivity 571 So I guess we have solidarity in our subjectivity by which we may say a fond farewell to our former illusions of objectivity I guess the rest of us must obey this permanent nonhuman constraintJacues Derrida chimed in arguing that the relationship between the sign and the thing signified was arbitrary This means that words and the concepts they signify are not dictated by the words themselves but by their authors and the readers who play with words and concepts Thus words aren t transparent windows on history but opaue symbols revealing nothing outside the text Words also subvert their authors by revealing the power play the author is trying to put over on his readers Isn t the power play signified by the words in the author and thus outside the text Maybe I don t understand Derrida but regardless this pointed the way to new hermeneutic of Deconstruction or reducing texts to powerFor literary critic Stanley Fish it is the community that teaches interpretation and the interpreter doesn t discover but makes texts facts authors and intentions Standards of right and wrong exist not in the text but within the community Fish said this is why we can t agree on an interp of a Shakespearean sonnet though it s only fourteen lines Rational debate is always possible he hoped not however because it is anchored in a reality outside it but bc it occurs in a history a history in the course of which realities and anchors have been established although they will have to be est again 544 If our debates aren t anchored in reality itself but only in a history of literary study then literary history must transcend reality But if literary history is part of reality then he hasn t really helped us has he Also if there s no reality outside the community then what do separate communities appeal to when the debate one another Other communities themselves or what And how if right and wrong exists only in communities does anyone ever change communities Novick doesn t critiue these guys like I ve been doing but only concludes that the center does not hold adding that In those days there was no king in Israel every man did that which was right in his own eyes Thank goodness the post modern community isn t the true Israel Thank God that the sacred text of the true Israel doesn t end with the book of Judges The Christian meta narrative doesn t end in self defeating despair It doesn t end in the cynical resignation to power plays and apathy toward meaning The relativism of Becker and Beard and the postmodernism of Derrida and Fish have done us a great service by making us aware of how our preconceptions affect our interpretations and how words get out of our control and reveal our self centered power plays Peter Leithart in Solomon Among the Postmoderns has argued that Postmodernism reveals that everything under the sun is mere vanity and chasing after the wind which is the point of Ecclesiastes But unlike Ecclesiastes Postmodernism ends in the despair of futility because it rejects God as the basis of knowledge It rejects his normative interpretation of the world that is revealed in nature Scripture and ultimately in the final judgment I would give Novick five stars if he would have taken a sane position on the issue and not written in academia ese He once refers to something inconsistent as problematically consistent My students choked on this kind of stuff One student said he tried to understand Novick and another that he tried to slit his wrists with NovickMark Noll s Christianity and the Possibility of Historical Knowledge responds well to Novick Noll argues that only the Christian view of knowledge can restore our confidence in reliable knowledge of any kind This is because God created the world and us in his image so that we can know his world We can trust our senses and our reason because God created them to receive and unlock nature and Scripture The world can be penetrated by our minds because they are made like God s mind which knows his world perfectly The correspondence of our minds to the creation is finite and fallible especially because of sin but can also be reliable The link between the something in my head and the something outside it is established at creation and sustained by God s power upholding his creation Thus I would argue that objectivity is seeing and knowing the world and God as God sees and knows the world and himself This is humanly possible because we are made in his image and he has revealed himself in the world but preeminently in the Word made flesh and made text RC Sproul said We can grasp the infinite but we cannot hold the infinite within our grasp Thus scientific and historical knowledge as well as personal knowledge of ourselves and each other can correspond to objective reality or Truth But Noll also points out that knowledge is a product of our individual points of view and thus no two people will ever come to exactly the same perspective Noll also notes that the Christian view of the fall into sin resonates with relativism I would argue that what postmoderns call power Christians call the sin of ambition and pride These prejudice our perceptions of the world but the only response left is not power to my power play The Christian response is I repent of my grabbing for power and I die to self in order to seek God s revelation In this way we may like Noll steer a course between Scylla of scientific objectivity and the Charybdis of relativism without falling into the trap of either

Read ✓ eBook, PDF or Kindle ePUB Æ Peter Novick

R ought to be doing when they wrote history how their principles influenced their practice and practical exigencies influenced their principles An astute and provocative account of how the historical profession in American has dealt with its founding myth and central norm the ideal of objectivity Dorothy Ross A fascinating exposition of the rise and fall of objectivism as the governing norm of historical practice divided into four movements the establishment of the ideal with historical professionalization 1880 1915 the challenge from early relativism in the Progressive era 1915 1940 the attempted revision in postwar consensus history 1940 1960 and the final collapse during the counterculture movement and postmodern turn 1960 1988 Insisting that his aim is not to defend a thesis but simply to make fellow historians self conscious about their enterprise Novick writing in 1988 offers no prospects for the future of the discipline in fact such a thing has ceased to exist though given the premise this neutral posture seems at best curious and at worst inconsistent or at least a missed opportunity for what would surely be some insightful constructive suggestions


10 thoughts on “That Noble Dream The 'Objectivity uestion' and the American Historical Profession Ideas in Context

  1. says:

    Novick gives a fantastic analysis of the changing views on the uestions of objectivity and subjectivity in American historiography How Novick a European historian could write so comprehensively and with such dep

  2. says:

    I actually enjoyed this book Which further proves I'm a dork

  3. says:

    Peter Novick's only stated goal in That Noble Dream is to simply raise uestions and provoke a deep level of introspection among American historians about what they are doing and how they are doing it To that end he traces

  4. says:

    I really hope the earning of a masters in history is not dependent on understanding andor enjoying this bookYikes Run out and find me a four year old child I can't make head or tail of this Perhaps once I've gone further towards becoming a master this will make sense I had to give up seven months laterWell I am

  5. says:

    Read this for grad class on theory much like most of the other reviewers on here I wholeheartedly agree with most of the previous reviewers th

  6. says:

    A bit long winded but Peter Novick gives a good description of the history of the history profession in the United States

  7. says:

    A fascinating exposition of the rise and fall of objectivism as the governing norm of historical practice divided into four movements the establishment of the ideal with historical professionalization 1880 1915 the challenge from early relativism in the Progressive era 1915 1940 the attempted revision in postwa

  8. says:

    I read this book for the first time some thirty years ago as a graduate history student I decided to return to it in preparation for an historiography class with a couple of talented students as well as the personal curiosity of reassessing i

  9. says:

    This one took me a while to finish reading considering how many times I went back through it but it is very interesting if you wonder

  10. says:

    First book I read for grad school Very informative overview of American historiography; sheds a great deal of light while posing some intriguing uestions about history and the historian

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