Archive for the ‘History in Academia’ Category

“Knowledge is Power.”

–Sir Francis Bacon

Powell History operates on five key pedagogical principles, based on the fundamental conviction that a proper study of history targets not merely the retention of facts about the past, but powerful knowledge that connects to life in the present.

This philosophy of history runs counter to the two dominant trends in modern historiography.

A still powerful theory among academic historians is the  nineteenth century ideology promoted by the German historian Leopold von Ranke.  This approach to history insists that it is a scientific pursuit of the highest intellectual order, modeled after Newtonian physical science.  The pursuit of knowledge in such a domain, “Rankeans”  hold, requires an intrinsic appreciation of facts about the past, which are to be observed and related dispassionately. In Ranke’s words, the past must be shown “wie es eigentlich gewesen” — “as it really was.”  To seek instruction from the past, in the Rankean view, is to collect and deploy information for a preconceived purpose, which necessarily corrupts one’s factual orientation.   Fearing such subjectivity, Ranke–and modern academic antiquarians–insist on the suppression of one’s conscious values in order to attain some measure of “scientific” objectivity.  Thus, of course, history is not to be studied in order to achieve benefits in the present and future.

Alternatively, post-Marxist historiography treats history as useful, but only as a rationalization for attacking the dominant Enlightenment narrative of western civilization.  Pure Marxism may not have any vital power left, but its fundamental premises of subjectivism and class warfare have mutated into many forms.  History is no longer solely  about the struggle of the proleteriat vs. the bourgeoisie; it’s about women vs. men, “native Americans” vs. European  conquerors, blacks vs. whites, homosexuals vs. heterosexuals, the insane vs. the sane, voodoo vs. medicine, environmentalists vs. industrialists, etc.  It’s about any and every subordinated collective identity rising up to assert itself against the “dead white men” whose essential contribution to civilization was supposedly to oppress others and then unfairly write a past that covers it up.

So if you’ve got an axe to grind or a chip on your shoulder about society, the modern study history is for you.  However, if you value individual rights, capitalism, science, industry, or anything one might associate with the core values of Western civilization, you’re part of the problem that this kind of history wants to “solve.”

Historians ask us to choose between “science” and useful knowledge or between the some form of “rage against the system” and the story that underpins our right to the pursuit of happiness. Is it any wonder that history has sunk to the status that it has in modern society?

Powell history takes a different view, adopting the foundational values of history first proposed by the ancient Greeks, and building upon those with modern insights in epistemology.  The five key pedagogical principles I call the Five “I”s are:  Integration, Inspiration, and Insight–the cardinal values that history rightly seeks to secure, and Integration and Iteration–the means to those ends.  In subsequent posts, I will elaborate on each of these in turn, so stay tuned!

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