Wednesday, 30 June 2010

long ago

"Some pretenders to high science and higher techniques aside, we do not start out with well-formed ideas we carry off to distant places to check out by means of carefully codified procedures systematically applied. We go off to those places, or, increasingly these days, ones closer by, with some general notions of what we would like to look into and of how we might go about looking into them. We then in fact look into them (or, often enough, look instead into others that turn out to be more interesting), and after doing so we return to sort through our notes and memories, both of them defective, to see what we might have uncovered that clarifies anything or leads on to useful revisions of received ideas, our own or someone else's about something or other. The writing this produces is accordingly exploratory, self-questioning, and shaped more by the occassions of its production that its post-hoc organization into chaptered books and thematic monographs might suggest."

What Clifford Geertz writes about cultural anthropology is basically how I feel about history.


  1. this is a lovely paragraph, and should be read by everyone studying history - or anyone who studies anything - before they even begin.

    thinking about history and anthropology, have you ever read anything by peter burke? he's a thoroughly endearing man - i saw him shuffling around cambridge a few times, my ex-boyfriend lived next door to him - and a great historian, who stumbled upon anthropology and then incorporated it into his history.

  2. It's a bit like "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." But not a metaphor. I love that.
    No, I haven't, and I'm really pleased you mentioned him! I'll buy one of his books when I'm in London. Still slightly jealous you went to Cambridge, shall save all my money for it.
    It's good to see you're still around, btw!

  3. when are you going to be in london? have you been before? and are you taking a day trip to cambridge? because you should!

    (and if you need a tour guide who kept her university card after graduation (even though that's very against the rules) and so can still get into colleges and chapels for free, well, you know where to come).

  4. 16-18 July, then Cornwall, Lake District, Scotland. I've visited London several times, but always seem to end up disappointed and overwhelmed. I'm quite tempted to go to Cambridge on Saturday actually, don't know if there'll be time though. I've been there before as well and loved it, but I didn't see that much.