History Objectivity hw

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Objectivityandtheories-321.pdf

Dear students, please read very carefully.

1. This course teaches the basic outline of a great deal of known history. Though the text is packed with material it is only a mere skim of the surface of ancient and recent historical events, individual and collective acts, theories and developments.

To reiterate from the syllabus, much of the history learned in high school, from family or the media, is whitewashed, fabricated, biased or imaginary. At best, it is a thin sliver of our known past. The information in our texts on the other hand is based upon corroborated, peer-reviewed research carried out by professional historians, working with the same meticulous level of analysis we would expect of scientists in the fields of cancer, obstetrics, or aviation. Each paragraph in the text is supported by PhD theses that took between 5-10 years to research and publish. As with scientific knowledge however, historical knowledge is provisional, ‘to now,’ until improved upon and revised. Historical knowledge, like dietary advice, changes. It should.

Thus, please note the following regarding “theories,” beliefs and knowledge production:

2. Most of you likely know that a hypothesis is merely a suggested explanation for observable phenomenon. Most of us hypothesize daily based on opinion or whimsy. A theory on the other hand is a tested, well-substantiated, unifying explanation for a set of verified, proven factors. A theory is always backed by evidence and explains complex, actual findings. Hence, the common expression that something is 'just a theory' is misleading. Everyday personal theories do not equate with scientific theories, which remain proven until disproven, and as of this moment explain without much doubt most of what you learn in college history courses - including heliocentric theory, evolutionary theory, gravitational theory, plate tectonic theory, theories supporting quantum physics, computer science, and much more. After all, the earth does go around the sun, continents do shift and erode, flora and fauna are classifiable, GPS systems work - through the theory of relativity, cancer therapies depend on discovery of DNA, electromagnetism and electricity continue to function, as do electronics, televisions, nuclear bombs, cell phones, antibiotics, vaccines, plastics, modern agriculture and medicine etc. All based on theories. You get the point.

Unless your personal theories also explain all these aspects of modernity, please keep them to yourself. Your or my ’theory’ regarding history, society, human nature, foreigners, people, men, women, or much else are based on vernacular usage of the word. They are not theories; they are just unverified hypotheses or opinions. They are certainly not comparable to the work of experts in diverse fields of knowledge, accrued over centuries, publicly demonstrated, subject to peer review, open debate, double-blind methods, repeatedly revised after hundreds or thousands of hours of impartial scrutiny.

In short, it is an affront to the work of scientists, academics and scholars in general to argue that their findings are equivalent to something you heard or were told, or something you just feel really strong about…stick with me, there’s more!

3. Subjective views, claims or assertions are based on personal opinions, interpretations, points of view, emotions or judgment. On the other hand, objective claims or analyses are plausible, fact-based, measurable, observable and supported by evidence. Subjective opinion is not suitable for historical analysis; objectivity is the goal. (i.e. I grew up in working-class England in a Catholic Irish community, playing soccer, listening to British music: It might suit me to theorize that the Irish invented civilization, are the “best” people on earth, that Catholicism is the “true” religion, that the rich are all mean, that soccer is the greatest sport ever, and nothing beats British music, but it won’t get me very far in the real world, and it certainly won’t be backed up by actual evidence. Except for the British music part…:-) Please do the same with whichever identity group you were raised in. Objective claims are widely applicable to various people and cultures: they are not subjectively based upon personal experiences in one’s local in-group. This course, like all college courses, requires objectivity as much as is humanly possible. It is important that all essays and posts aspire to be objective and not subjective. Feel free to read this out of interest: https://www.eurozine.com/can-history-be-a-science/

4. With that in mind, since this course builds on ancient historical knowledge, please skim the webpage below from Stanford University, which outlines a selection of Creation Narratives found around the world.

http://solar-center.stanford.edu/folklore/Solar-Folklore.pdf

5. This assignment aims to make clear to students that subjective personal theories, family convictions, or regional creation myths, are not 'equivalent' to objectively verified historical information or scientific theories. History is part humanities, part social science. It is based upon evidence. This is a history course. To recount, a scientific theory explains readily established facts. It is backed by research in diverse fields from scholars, scientists and experts working worldwide. Theories that sustain and explain the modern world, upon which we rely every day, were meticulously formed over years, decades or centuries. Traditions and beliefs are local or regional. A historian therefore does not privilege one tradition over another, or hundreds of others. They are all studied equally in historical context. Your class participation, your posts and your essays should demonstrate understanding of the aforementioned points.

We all have much to learn in college and life. We don’t know what we don’t know. I have read history for over 30 years and I am astonished daily by what I didn’t know about the past or present, as I read and learn anew. Embracing intellectual humility is the first step to becoming a successful lifelong learner and citizen, of your country and the world. Please embrace this opportunity; more education brings more curiosity, more joy, and more success.