What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

Is it just subjective opinion?

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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#41  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 5:50 am

Thomas Eshuis said: whereas in fields like history, paleontology etc, the tests of an hypothesis consist of reviewing the available evidence. Both are examples of applying the scientific method.


Yes, for instance taking a piece of old bone, breaking it down to extract DNA and then testing the DNA for identification purposes. There's no retesting done. If the tester is able to extract some DNA from a piece of bone, the testing can only be done once.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#42  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 6:13 am

igorfrankensteen wrote:Agrippa:

First let me correct you there. Agrippa was my father, I'm his daughter, Agrippina, but on this forum, most people call me "Aggie" you may do that if you prefer.

I appreciate what your post tried to do, but you said some things which are on the wrong side of things, I think.

Which then leads to an examination of what evidence there is. As there is no evidence for the existence of people wandering around the desert for 40 years, it may be assumed that it didn't happen. This is where assumption and deduction come in.


Error. Assuming something didn't happen because you've found no support for it yet, isn't scientific, and doesn't demonstrate good Historical research practice either. The correct way to handle such things, is to say simply that there is no evidence to support such and such a Biblical claim. "Assuming" is NOT a recommended, or respected act by any disciplined Historian.

OK so say I come across a shard of pottery, and it has what I think looks like a Greek pattern on it, and it looks really ancient, and is a little fragile. Would I be correct in assuming it might be ancient Greek pottery and then would I be right to take it to a museum for clarification, or should I just toss it away because "assuming is not recommended?"

I don't want to wander into the pits of discussing the reality of Jesus, there's a thread for that, so I won't talk about it.

We do know that the Romans ruled over Palestine. We have the Roman records, and their records demonstrate absolute obsessiveness with keeping records. This is science,the records are still in existence. What there is no record for is for the trial of Jesus and his crucifixion.


Another common error for non-Historians. First, though it is true that the Romans did keep a lot of records, they did not keep 100% complete records.

I didn't say they kept 100% records of everything. I said they were obsessive about record keeping, but we know that even obsessiveness doesn't work 100% of the time.

To assume that all records were complete, and to assume as well that after the fall of the Empire, that it's conquerors carefully preserved all of those records, is silly, as soon as one actually looks at it.


That's not what I said. And people make mistakes, even people who quibble about the volumes of records make mistakes, note your error above with my name. Mistakes are easy to make, being obsessive means that you're inclined to make fewer errors than the people who aren't as meticulous about record-keeping. For example, if you had been entering my name in a census record, and 1000 years later someone came across that record, they would question why the male form of my name was used, rather than the female one since all the other evidence tends to demonstrate that I was a woman. Yes, I know you made a mistake, but that's the point, people make mistakes all the time.

It's a bit like the assumption some people have, that every creature who ever existed, became a fossil after the appropriate amount of time, and therefore that if we don't have a continuum of skeletons showing each bit of evolution, that therefore evolution didn't occur after all.

That's not what I said. Read it again. I said that the Romans were obsessive record-keepers and that if there had been a really important event such as described in the NT, it would've been recorded. However, we are now 2,000 years down the line, even if they did keep a record of every single event in their history, after this amount of time, hardly any of those records will have survived. I am also only too aware of how records disappear, how they are falsified, and how sometimes not all the information is recorded.

You are quite right in several other "off the top of your head" items, such as the recent to do about Richard III. Hard science is one of the tools that Historians use as a part of following the discipline.

DEDUCTIONS are a part of writing good History, not ASSUMPTIONS. And even deductions need to be identified as such.

Of course they are. But that doesn't mean that they shouldn't be made and that they shouldn't be entered into the historical record, if only so that future historians can use those deductions as a starting point to look for further clues.
Peer review is an interesting subject area. It does take place to a degree, but as we've begun to notice recently in the Hard Sciences world, we can't deduce from the fact that there is SOME peer review going on, that therefore the discipline can be trusted implicitly. Since History is NOT something which can be "replicated experimentally" for the most part (yes, one can verify evidence some of the time, other times not), there is a limit to what even rigorous peer review could accomplish.

Indeed. And there is also personal opinion, which can be used to explain historical events, from the historians point of view. Even though that's not reliable, and is purely anecdotal in some cases, it is nevertheless valuable. For example, I grew up in Apartheid South Africa. I have first-hand knowledge of what life was like under the system, and even though it's personal experience and not science, my observations, opinions, experiences, and what I witnessed are valid when recording the personal experiences of people living under Apartheid.
In fact, there is an entire aspect of History which is one of the absolutely MOST fascinating ones for me: it is called "Historiography." it is the study of how the telling of History itself, is affected by everything from present day (of the particular Historian under scrutiny) politics, to fads in the telling of History itself. Even though the past )( so far as can be determined) cannot be changed, what we THINK happened in the past, changes all the time. Sometimes owing to honest reappraisals, but even more commonly to serve the newest authorities, or would-be authorities.

Yes, which is why my experience of Apartheid is important to explain the system to people who weren't alive at the time, it's why I wrote an autobiography for my grandchildren to be able to use when they study the history of the 20th century in South Africa.

This is why, to really "do" History well, one must do much more than read old documents and records. One must study the general nature of the people who created the documents, and what may have influenced them to do so.

Yes, and any solid objects they left behind, such as possessions, letters, photographs etc. We don't have enough of those for the Ancient World so we have to rely on archaeology, numismatics, and documents such as engravings, stelae and so on.

It is very possible, for example, that the reason why the Crucifixion of Jesus resulted in no record being kept by the Romans, is that the people who killed him didn't see him as important enough to warrant a record. I don't want to get into Jesus directly either, but you did bring it up after saying you didn't want to. We're both silly self-victimizers in that way, I guess.

That deduction is important because if no record was kept, nowhere, not in Rome and not in Judah, it is an indication that he was a small fish, if he was a fish at all. If he was the important figure people make him out to be then there would've been at least a court record, or something said in Pontius Pilate's or the governor's records. Sedition was a huge issue with the Romans, look what happened to Spartacus, his revolt launched a civil war. If Jesus was as big a rabble-rouser, there would have been something more than some nonsense written by brain-washed followers 50 years later. But as I said, I don't want to enter into that debate here, except to say it's possible he was a real person and that's all I think he was, nothing more, certainly not a seditionist that caused the Jews to abandon their Passover rituals about.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#43  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 6:18 am

Thomas Eshuis wrote:
igorfrankensteen wrote:Agrippa:

I appreciate what your post tried to do, but you said some things which are on the wrong side of things, I think.

Which then leads to an examination of what evidence there is. As there is no evidence for the existence of people wandering around the desert for 40 years, it may be assumed that it didn't happen. This is where assumption and deduction come in.


Error. Assuming something didn't happen because you've found no support for it yet, isn't scientific, and doesn't demonstrate good Historical research practice either. The correct way to handle such things, is to say simply that there is no evidence to support such and such a Biblical claim. "Assuming" is NOT a recommended, or respected act by any disciplined Historian.

:this:

igorfrankensteen wrote:
I don't want to wander into the pits of discussing the reality of Jesus, there's a thread for that, so I won't talk about it.
We do know that the Romans ruled over Palestine. We have the Roman records, and their records demonstrate absolute obsessiveness with keeping records. This is science,the records are still in existence. What there is no record for is for the trial of Jesus and his crucifixion.

Another common error for non-Historians.

Did you miss the part where Agripinna stated she has a degree in ancient history?

igorfrankensteen wrote: First, though it is true that the Romans did keep a lot of records, they did not keep 100% complete records. To assume that all records were complete, and to assume as well that after the fall of the Empire, that it's conquerors carefully preserved all of those records, is silly, as soon as one actually looks at it.

While this is true, it still is odd that there is not a single contemporary record, official or otherwise of Jesus.

igorfrankensteen wrote: DEDUCTIONS are a part of writing good History, not ASSUMPTIONS. And even deductions need to be identified as such.

Peer review is an interesting subject area. It does take place to a degree, but as we've begun to notice recently in the Hard Sciences world, we can't deduce from the fact that there is SOME peer review going on, that therefore the discipline can be trusted implicitly.

Agreed, but then I think most people with an academic education or profession are well aware of that.
This notion also leads to the incorrect assumption that science is based on consensus, rather than the principles of falsification and verification.

igorfrankensteen wrote: Since History is NOT something which can be "replicated experimentally" for the most part (yes, one can verify evidence some of the time, other times not), there is a limit to what even rigorous peer review could accomplish.

It can, at the very least, verify important aspects like wether rigourous citations and annotations have been provided, whether said sources actually state what the author claims they state and whether there is contradictory evidence.

igorfrankensteen wrote: In fact, there is an entire aspect of History which is one of the absolutely MOST fascinating ones for me: it is called "Historiography." it is the study of how the telling of History itself, is affected by everything from present day (of the particular Historian under scrutiny) politics, to fads in the telling of History itself. Even though the past )( so far as can be determined) cannot be changed, what we THINK happened in the past, changes all the time. Sometimes owing to honest reappraisals, but even more commonly to serve the newest authorities, or would-be authorities.

This is why, to really "do" History well, one must do much more than read old documents and records. One must study the general nature of the people who created the documents, and what may have influenced them to do so.

Indeed, this is why philosophy of history is an interesting and useful aspect of the historical profession as a whole.

igorfrankensteen wrote: It is very possible, for example, that the reason why the Crucifixion of Jesus resulted in no record being kept by the Romans, is that the people who killed him didn't see him as important enough to warrant a record.

If the biblical account of the trial and execution is accurate, Jesus was executed for treason, for claiming to be the king of the Jews and thus a challenger of imperial authority.
Seems quite a serious and notable charge.
Caveat being of course that the biblical account is accurate in the first place. ;)

igorfrankensteen wrote: I don't want to get into Jesus directly either, but you did bring it up after saying you didn't want to. We're both silly self-victimizers in that way, I guess.

I don't think we should pre-emptively avoid the topic all together, as long as we keep things respectful. Let's not 'ban' subjects because of a rotten thread.


Yes to all the above.
Also I've spent the last six years studying the Bible, and have written a book about it. So I know a little about Jesus.

On the assumption thing. I see it as a first step. I pick up what looks like a sharpened stone, I assume it might be a tool. I don't just toss it aside as rubbish, I hang onto it keep it on my desk, because it's interesting and I think it might have been someone's knife at some stage. Then I get the opportunity to visit a university to show them the tool, I tell them about my assumption, they say they'll test it and come back to me. My assumption leads to my garden being dug up and several old tools being found, and my name on the record as the discovery of the tool bed. My assumption has now led to fame. It has its place, its not a valid end of a discovery, but it may be a starting point.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#44  Postby Thomas Eshuis » May 09, 2015 9:41 am

As long as you clearly denote which claims are based on assumption and which one evidence, and provide valid reasoning for your assumptions, there's nothing wrong with historians providing hypotheses imo.
"Respect for personal beliefs = "I am going to tell you all what I think of YOU, but don't dare retort and tell what you think of ME because...it's my personal belief". Hmm. A bully's charter and no mistake."
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#45  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 10:29 am

Thomas Eshuis wrote:As long as you clearly denote which claims are based on assumption and which one evidence, and provide valid reasoning for your assumptions, there's nothing wrong with historians providing hypotheses imo.


Yes. When I offer an opinion, I say "it is my opinion" and then say why I have that opinion. Not science, but from experience, knowledge, observation, and deduction, I form an assumption/decision, and am very happy when someone can either confirm or refute it with real evidence. Someone just saying "well that's your opinion and everyone has one" just annoys me because I am reluctant to offer opinions unless I have looked at whatever evidence there is that refutes it. Contrary to what believers do, I always look for evidence that tells me I'm wrong.

I'm actually dealing with something at the moment. Everything I'm reading goes with the standard accepted hypotheses. I've looked at the subject matter, read it over and over again, and looked at all the interpretations, and I think they're wrong. I've had a lightbulb moment, and I can't find anything that agrees with me, it's not something factual, it's merely an interpretation. I'm a little loath to express it because it may come across as my going over to the dark side of religious belief, OMG. Yet every time I read the same text, I can't help seeing that light. Argh!
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#46  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 09, 2015 10:51 am

Agrippina wrote:Here is an example of evidence from a genuine ancient source, c8th century BCE.

Sennacharib's Prism

What I find amazing about this thing, and the stele with Hammurabi's Code is the amount of time and patience it must have taken to carve these words into the stone. Serious tenacity there.

The content might be as questionable as the Bible, and as Herodotus's Histories, but the fact that this thing exists, and can be dated to the period it refers to makes it more valid than the Bible which was gone through three millennia of writing, rewriting, chopping and changing, and which can be shown to have faulty history.

So we take Isaiah's account of the siege of Jerusalem, compare it with this stone, and somewhere in the middle, with the help of archaeology, we find something that may resemble the truth.


Again, a suggestion to expand on your thinking here...

I would agree that a document which can be dated to the time of the occurrence that it describes, might suffer less from the various "evolutions" which can distort descriptions handed down over many years. But one must be cautious about using the words "more valid," or of THINKING along those lines. As it mentions in the link you provide, this kind of carefully made and preserved by those who created them, not out of any special love for truth, but in order to proclaim the great glory of the Assyrians. A propaganda treatis, tends to be LESS accurate, the closer it is to the time of the events it describes.

The comparison of Biblical sources to this three-sided clay tablet is best considered, for the insight each provide into the goals and psyche of those doing the telling. The Biblical sources want to glorify the authority of their god, just as the Prism sources want to glorify the power of the Assyrian ruler. It would be nice if Archaeological sources could sort out the truth, though particularly in the well and thoroughly trod lands of the M.E., discerning hard proof that this particular battle took place at all, is dicey.

And of primary importance in a given version of History, are the goals and ideals of the Historian themselves. We may like to think that capital T Truth is our goal here in the US, and in these times, but what we are willing to believe is Truth, may be colored and shaded by what we secondarily believe is Important. And that may not be what was Important at the time of the actual occurrences.

In the end, the study of the past may or may not provide us with exact and accurate descriptions of detailed events. But the primary reason why History is valuable to study, to provide us with useful knowledge of ourselves and our own lives. Therefore, recognizing that we are looking at the contrasted viewpoints of the various players, and not necessarily at the exact real occurrences, is actually more valuable to us than a basic recitation of deaths and wounds. The ways that each peoples lie, or at least ELABORATE about the past, tells us much more about them, than the real facts themselves do.

Many people died. Why were their deaths accepted by each side? Why were some hidden, if they were? The better Historians don't GUESS the answers to these kinds of questions, they DEDUCE them, based on all manner of additional knowledge, gained from many sources, including direct personal experiences.

And because this mix of observations and deductions is critical to coming to an understanding which might be considered to be close to True, it is actually imperative that we do NOT get hung up on trying to make History into the sort of "hard science" which comes to permanent decisions, since this tends to put an end to further collection of knowledge, particularly that which gives us the most important insights.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#47  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 11:35 am

igorfrankensteen wrote:
Agrippina wrote:Here is an example of evidence from a genuine ancient source, c8th century BCE.

Sennacharib's Prism

What I find amazing about this thing, and the stele with Hammurabi's Code is the amount of time and patience it must have taken to carve these words into the stone. Serious tenacity there.

The content might be as questionable as the Bible, and as Herodotus's Histories, but the fact that this thing exists, and can be dated to the period it refers to makes it more valid than the Bible which was gone through three millennia of writing, rewriting, chopping and changing, and which can be shown to have faulty history.

So we take Isaiah's account of the siege of Jerusalem, compare it with this stone, and somewhere in the middle, with the help of archaeology, we find something that may resemble the truth.


Again, a suggestion to expand on your thinking here...

I would agree that a document which can be dated to the time of the occurrence that it describes, might suffer less from the various "evolutions" which can distort descriptions handed down over many years. But one must be cautious about using the words "more valid," or of THINKING along those lines. As it mentions in the link you provide, this kind of carefully made and preserved by those who created them, not out of any special love for truth, but in order to proclaim the great glory of the Assyrians. A propaganda treatis, tends to be LESS accurate, the closer it is to the time of the events it describes.

Indeed. The person seeking the triumph to parade through Rome wearing his laurel crown, will always embellish the "truth" to the point of actually looting the homes of innocent bystanders to bring stolen wealth home with him.

The Geneva Convention prevents this now, but before that, the victors wrote the history and then stole whatever they could, and, as in the Bible, claim that the conquered "gave" them the jewels to bring with them.


The comparison of Biblical sources to this three-sided clay tablet is best considered, for the insight each provide into the goals and psyche of those doing the telling. The Biblical sources want to glorify the authority of their god, just as the Prism sources want to glorify the power of the Assyrian ruler. It would be nice if Archaeological sources could sort out the truth, though particularly in the well and thoroughly trod lands of the M.E., discerning hard proof that this particular battle took place at all, is dicey.

Yes, we'll never know what actually happened, not even if there were eye-witnesses.
Even Thuycidides said this when he reported the Peloponnesian War. He said that he wasn't always there to give an eye-witness account, so he relied on other people to tell him, which made the stories a little doubtful.

Christopher Hitchens once said that when he was a reporter and he read what other reporters wrote of the same event that he'd witnessed, he sometimes wondered if they were actually there, and whether they were reporting on the same story he was.

You can't go by personal accounts, or even eye-witness accounts. You have to weigh up what you're told, find what the stories have in common, then check those against other evidence. Which is why I read several websites, books, original reports etc. of the same story before I made conclusions about anything. My Goodreads book list seems like I spend an awful lot of time reading books about Ancient Rome, and nothing else. It's because Rome fascinates me, and every book, fictional or non-fiction, has different ways of looking at events in Rome, all of them interesting but sometimes the way the stories are embellished, makes me roll my eyes. If I had a time machine, I would love to have been there during the time of Caesar.

And of primary importance in a given version of History, are the goals and ideals of the Historian themselves. We may like to think that capital T Truth is our goal here in the US, and in these times, but what we are willing to believe is Truth, may be colored and shaded by what we secondarily believe is Important. And that may not be what was Important at the time of the actual occurrences.

I'm very doubtful about "truth" when it comes to history. Even if everything is accessible and easily examined, there are aspects to the people involved that even their closest friends, lovers, and family members don't know about them. Just look at the way we draw conclusions about people from what they say in a forum like this. Then look at their Facebook pages, meet them personally, talk to their family members, and everyone will have a different opinion about the subject being looked at. I often tell my kids that they don't know me, because they see me as their mother, there as aspects to me that they'll never see, and that I'll never tell them, but that other people know about me. So if it's that way for me, imagine how it is for people in the public eye. Take for example Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge. Last Saturday she gave birth. Within a few hours she appeared dressed to the nines, to show off the baby. What her husband knew, and the nurses, and hangers on who dressed her knew, was that she was probably falling off those high heels and could barely walk in them, and that she was also padded to the hilt to prevent a blood stain on that perfect dress. In history she'll go down as having looked "fabulous" after giving birth, when the real story is completely different.

In the end, the study of the past may or may not provide us with exact and accurate descriptions of detailed events. But the primary reason why History is valuable to study, to provide us with useful knowledge of ourselves and our own lives. Therefore, recognizing that we are looking at the contrasted viewpoints of the various players, and not necessarily at the exact real occurrences, is actually more valuable to us than a basic recitation of deaths and wounds. The ways that each peoples lie, or at least ELABORATE about the past, tells us much more about them, than the real facts themselves do.

History is really only there for us to know the past, what happened, when, and where, and who was involved. Everything else is a bonus. As I said, I would love to have been able to talk to Julius Caesar to see what he was really thinking when he bedded Cleopatra, and how he felt when he was confronted with Pompey's head. We don't know. All we know is what the story tellers tell us.

Many people died. Why were their deaths accepted by each side? Why were some hidden, if they were? The better Historians don't GUESS the answers to these kinds of questions, they DEDUCE them, based on all manner of additional knowledge, gained from many sources, including direct personal experiences.

Yes. Most of it is deduction. Even when we are able to confirm that events happened, we can't say exactly what the people involved were thinking. A good example of this is Constantine's conversion.

And because this mix of observations and deductions is critical to coming to an understanding which might be considered to be close to True, it is actually imperative that we do NOT get hung up on trying to make History into the sort of "hard science" which comes to permanent decisions, since this tends to put an end to further collection of knowledge, particularly that which gives us the most important insights.

With instant imaging, recording devices and cameras on every phone now, we can be more accurate about recording history, but we're still dealing with people with feelings, biases, likes, dislikes, preferences and so on. Those are intangible, we can't know them.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#48  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 09, 2015 1:08 pm

Agrippina: sorry for my poor eyesight, and for letting my Historians' existing recognition of the name Agrippa, to cause me to see that, instead of what was written.

some responses to what you said:

agrippina: OK so say I come across a shard of pottery, and it has what I think looks like a Greek pattern on it, and it looks really ancient, and is a little fragile. Would I be correct in assuming it might be ancient Greek pottery and then would I be right to take it to a museum for clarification, or should I just toss it away because "assuming is not recommended?"


No, you would not ASSUME it was ancient Greek pottery, you would SUSPECT that it is, and check, as you describe. The difference in those two words is very important.

Think of this: there is an important practical difference between acting on an ASSUMPTION, and acting on a suspicion, or a still evolving deduction. An ASSUMPTION results in the door to further weighing of facts being closed.

Many mistakes have been made in the study of the past, precisely because of people making false ASSUMPTIONS about what they were looking at.

I didn't say they kept 100% records of everything. I said they were obsessive about record keeping, but we know that even obsessiveness doesn't work 100% of the time.


Yes. But the reason you said that, was to imply that because they were obsessive (which, by the way, is an opinion, and not something that you or anyone else can prove), that the lack of a record about a specific person, can be used as proof that he either did not exist, or was not who others claimed he was. Aside from the fact that the characterization of the Romans as being "obsessive" about record keeping isn't born out by archaeology or existing libraries, even if it were true, the reasoning from that, does not support any suggestion that "lack of proof equals proof of lack."

That's not what I said. And people make mistakes, even people who quibble about the volumes of records make mistakes, note your error above with my name. Mistakes are easy to make, being obsessive means that you're inclined to make fewer errors than the people who aren't as meticulous about record-keeping. For example, if you had been entering my name in a census record, and 1000 years later someone came across that record, they would question why the male form of my name was used, rather than the female one since all the other evidence tends to demonstrate that I was a woman. Yes, I know you made a mistake, but that's the point, people make mistakes all the time.


As I pointed out above, you only made the note about fanatical attention to detail, in order to support the idea that a lack of records which we know of, allows us to positively conclude something about what we see no records of. That is what I was trying to say to you, which YOU didn't get.

That's not what I said. Read it again. I said that the Romans were obsessive record-keepers and that if there had been a really important event such as described in the NT, it would've been recorded. However, we are now 2,000 years down the line, even if they did keep a record of every single event in their history, after this amount of time, hardly any of those records will have survived. I am also only too aware of how records disappear, how they are falsified, and how sometimes not all the information is recorded.


" if there had been a really important event such as described in the NT, it would've been recorded."

The same logical error repeated, based on the same ASSUMPTION about Roman record keeping. Is there a chance that you are yourself suffering from a very common Historians' syndrome, wherein we don't notice that since the bulk of what we have studied from our peers, makes a general assumption about someone or something, that the assumption is accurate?

In my own daily life, making my near poverty living as a service technician, I am confronted almost every day by people who think that because THEY don't carefully count how many screws or connectors are included in a given machine assembly, that I am a "fanatic record keeper" because I do. Similarly, the fact that most businesses count every penny they have in their cash registers at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, does not mean that they are "obsessive record keepers." If they WERE "obsessive record keepers," they would also take notes on what every clerk was wearing, how many customers walked into the store and how many rode in on wheelchairs, how many times someone sneezed, and so on.

The fact that we have more Roman records available for study today, does not support the characterization that they were "obsessive record keepers."
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#49  Postby Agrippina » May 09, 2015 4:10 pm

igorfrankensteen wrote:Agrippina: sorry for my poor eyesight, and for letting my Historians' existing recognition of the name Agrippa, to cause me to see that, instead of what was written.

No problem, it was only to make a point later that I mentioned it.


some responses to what you said:

agrippina: OK so say I come across a shard of pottery, and it has what I think looks like a Greek pattern on it, and it looks really ancient, and is a little fragile. Would I be correct in assuming it might be ancient Greek pottery and then would I be right to take it to a museum for clarification, or should I just toss it away because "assuming is not recommended?"


No, you would not ASSUME it was ancient Greek pottery, you would SUSPECT that it is, and check, as you describe. The difference in those two words is very important.

Think of this: there is an important practical difference between acting on an ASSUMPTION, and acting on a suspicion, or a still evolving deduction. An ASSUMPTION results in the door to further weighing of facts being closed.

Maybe. But for me the door is never closed. I'll hear an argument even when someone else might close a door.

Many mistakes have been made in the study of the past, precisely because of people making false ASSUMPTIONS about what they were looking at.

People make mistakes even when the evidence showing the mistake is presented to them. Humans aren't infallible.

I didn't say they kept 100% records of everything. I said they were obsessive about record keeping, but we know that even obsessiveness doesn't work 100% of the time.


Yes. But the reason you said that, was to imply that because they were obsessive (which, by the way, is an opinion, and not something that you or anyone else can prove), that the lack of a record about a specific person, can be used as proof that he either did not exist, or was not who others claimed he was. Aside from the fact that the characterization of the Romans as being "obsessive" about record keeping isn't born out by archaeology or existing libraries, even if it were true, the reasoning from that, does not support any suggestion that "lack of proof equals proof of lack."

I don't know if it is mere opinion. There is so much writing about them in existence still today that demonstrate just how assiduous they were at recording their history. And we know that we have only a small percentage of what was actually recorded.

That's not what I said. And people make mistakes, even people who quibble about the volumes of records make mistakes, note your error above with my name. Mistakes are easy to make, being obsessive means that you're inclined to make fewer errors than the people who aren't as meticulous about record-keeping. For example, if you had been entering my name in a census record, and 1000 years later someone came across that record, they would question why the male form of my name was used, rather than the female one since all the other evidence tends to demonstrate that I was a woman. Yes, I know you made a mistake, but that's the point, people make mistakes all the time.


As I pointed out above, you only made the note about fanatical attention to detail, in order to support the idea that a lack of records which we know of, allows us to positively conclude something about what we see no records of. That is what I was trying to say to you, which YOU didn't get.

I did get it. I still maintain that there are records lost that will make my point that they were a little "obsessive" (or meticulous, or careful - it's all the same to me) about record-keeping.(I think obsessiveness is in the eye of the beholder. One person might call another "obsessive" for making their bed every day). To me, in the ancient world, that they kept amazing records of the sort that would've made the heads of subsequent generations spin, sounds like obsessiveness.

That's not what I said. Read it again. I said that the Romans were obsessive record-keepers and that if there had been a really important event such as described in the NT, it would've been recorded. However, we are now 2,000 years down the line, even if they did keep a record of every single event in their history, after this amount of time, hardly any of those records will have survived. I am also only too aware of how records disappear, how they are falsified, and how sometimes not all the information is recorded.


" if there had been a really important event such as described in the NT, it would've been recorded."

The same logical error repeated, based on the same ASSUMPTION about Roman record keeping. Is there a chance that you are yourself suffering from a very common Historians' syndrome, wherein we don't notice that since the bulk of what we have studied from our peers, makes a general assumption about someone or something, that the assumption is accurate?

I don't call it an assumption. Having spent the last almost twenty years reading mostly books about the ancient world, my conclusion is that they were obsessive about record-keeping compared with other people who lived at the same time and after them, is valid. They had to rely to putting their records on paper, and storing them in places that weren't secure as our record vaults are today. For instance the emperor Claudius spent most of his life writing about his family, yet after he died all his notes and recorded history was lost. His work was the source for subsequent historians.

This sounds reasonably obsessive to me, given that the "historical method" as we understand it today hadn't been developed.
In Roman Egypt, for instance, every provincial capital had a central record office known as a demosia bibliotheke where officials were required to deposit certain records relating to census, tax, land and other official transactions. These record offices were open to the public who could come and inspect the records.


http://www.unesco.org/webworld/ramp/html/r9008e/r9008e03.htm

This sort of record-keeping disappeared after the Fall of Rome, and was only equalled by that of the Germans, before the late 20th century saw the introduction of computers which makes record-keeping fairly simple.

In my own daily life, making my near poverty living as a service technician, I am confronted almost every day by people who think that because THEY don't carefully count how many screws or connectors are included in a given machine assembly, that I am a "fanatic record keeper" because I do. Similarly, the fact that most businesses count every penny they have in their cash registers at the beginning of the day, and at the end of the day, does not mean that they are "obsessive record keepers." If they WERE "obsessive record keepers," they would also take notes on what every clerk was wearing, how many customers walked into the store and how many rode in on wheelchairs, how many times someone sneezed, and so on.


Maybe the Romans didn't write down about their uniforms, but they did make drawings. Wait, someone did write it down.

Vegetius, 4th-century author of De Re Militari, describes the equipment he believed had been used by heavy and light infantry earlier in the empire. The names of some weapons have been changed from the Latin to the Greek forms and Greek names have been preferred, for unknown reasons, perhaps because the center of Roman military power had shifted from Rome to Constantinople. Vegetius says in translation:

The infantry (armatura) was heavy, because they had helmets (cassis), coats of mail (catafracta), greaves (ocrea), shields (scutum), larger swords (gladius maior), which they call broadswords (spatha), and some smaller, which they name half-broadswords (semispathium), five weighted darts (plumbata) placed in the shields, which they hurl at the beginning of the assault, then double throwables, a larger one with an iron point of nine ounces and a stock of five and one-half feet, which was called a pilum, but now is called a spiculum, in the use of which the soldiers were especially practised, and with skill and courage could penetrate the shields of the infantry and the mail of the cavalry. The other smaller had five ounces of iron and a stock of three and one-half feet, and was called a vericulum but now is a verutum. The first line, of hastati, and the second, of principes, were composed of such arms. Behind them were the bearers (ferentarius) and the light infantry, whom now we say are the supporters and the infantry, shield-bearers (scutum) with darts (plumbata), swords (gladius) and , armed just as are nearly all soldiers today. There were likewise bowmen (sagittarius) with helmet (cassis), coat of mail (catafracta), sword (gladius), arrows (sagitta) and bow (arcus). There were slingers (funditor) who slung small stones (lapis) in slings (funda) or cudgel-throwers (fustibalus). There were artillery-men (tragularius), who shot arrows from the manuballista and the arcuballista.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_military_personal_equipment

The fact that we have more Roman records available for study today, does not support the characterization that they were "obsessive record keepers."


You're quibbling about the word "obsessive." Let's use meticulous, assiduous, careful, rigorous, diligent, detailed... any of those will do as well.
It's almost as if you want to bring the Jesus story in here. I'm not getting drawn into that argument, so drop it. Please.

The Greeks too used to keep records. Not perhaps in the same way the Romans did, I can't find anything off-hand to support that but given that the Romans' Empire lasted a lot longer than the Athenian one, it's not a terribly fair comparison.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#50  Postby igorfrankensteen » May 09, 2015 7:34 pm

I didn't bring the Jesus argument in. "Someone else" did that.

I responded to the claim that the fact that it wasn't supported by remaining "meticulous, assiduous, careful, rigorous, diligent, detailed" records, meant that there was no validity to it.

I am myself entirely personally opposed to belief in magical beings, and have no interest in either supporting or denying that, or any other religious artifact/item/alleged personage.

I am only concerned with arguing accurately, because I have seen again and again in my life, that sloppy reasoning on any area of human effort, has negative results for more than just the person being sloppy.

For example, I have seen many people begin with the sloppy statement that even the best Historians make "assumptions" in order to describe the past, and once that sloppiness was accepted, they proceeded to discard all Historical source material as untrustworthy and invalid. We have lots of politicians over here in particular, who eagerly rewrite History to suit their personal greed, and they are among those who use this semantic trick to gain self-blinded followers.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#51  Postby Leucius Charinus » Jun 27, 2015 10:35 am

MS2 wrote:I'd be interested to hear whether other people think historical research ultimately amounts to anything more than subjective opinion? (And, if so, why and how!)


I found this response to a similar question on another forum very interesting and copied it below.

This relates to the method of history.

    History's method is quasi-scientific; more exactly, it is as scientific (rigorous) as it can possibly be, given its particular circumstances.

    Given that strict scientific methodology (i.e. up to double blind controlled trials plus metanalyses) is inherently impossible for History, the postulates of the historical hypotheses (often miscalled "theories") are subject to what is often called "mental experiements", in a nutshell rigorously controlled "what-if" speculation.

    The traditional scientific methodology is reversed in one critical point; the results of the "mental experiment" (i.e. the present conditions of the issue at hand) are known in advance; it is the "methodology" of such process which is trying to be logically induced from such results.

    In fact, the results are essentially the only potentially truly objective part of the process; ergo, extreme rigor is required for recording such results.

    The process as a whole is superficially similar to pure philosophical research, given the ostensible relevance of logical reasoning (actually shared by any scientific discipline).

    The critical difference is that, contrary to pure philosophical research and analogous to any scientific discipline, the method of History is restricted by the regular rules of evidence; the core falsifiable criteria of Popper are required too.

    Even if in principle any past may be considered "History" in practice it is regularly restricted fundamentally to the study of the recorded (basically written) development of humankind; ergo, it is no surprise that the History method so often tends to overlap with the methodology of several other Humanities, notably anthropology and sociology.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#52  Postby Agrippina » Jun 27, 2015 2:56 pm

Here's an interesting piece also speaks about memory recall.

The science of memory distortion is well developed. We know now about myriad terrifying ways in which memory can get messed up:

You can come to think you saw a person in one context when you actually saw her in another. In one notable case in history, a rail ticket agent identified a sailor in a lineup as the person who had physically assaulted him, when really that sailor was just a past customer.

The way you’re asked about what you remember can manipulate the features of the memory itself. If you’re asked to estimate how fast a car was going when it "smashed" into another, you’re likely to "recall" a higher speed than you would if you were asked how fast it was going when it "hit" another car.

Even just imagining what an experience would be like can implant an entirely false memory of that experience in you.

So it’s misleading, to say the least, to represent episodic memories as hi-def records (of things that actually happened) that are crystallized forevermore in discrete capsules. It’s visually stunning, and it makes for easy transportation of Riley’s core memories on the great journey Joy and Sadness take through the depths of her mind.


http://www.vox.com/2015/6/25/8840945/inside-out-mind-memory

Which makes the point about why eye-witness testimony is unreliable, not only in general, or in courts of law, but also in the sense of recording history.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#53  Postby Leucius Charinus » Jun 28, 2015 3:57 am

MS2 wrote:I'd be interested to hear whether other people think historical research ultimately amounts to anything more than subjective opinion? (And, if so, why and how!)



Once I attempted to try and formalise the process of ancient history with the assistance of a schematic:


ABSTRACT

A process is identified to describe the methodology of historical theorizing in which evidence items are registered, one by one. Against each item of evidence hypotheses consistent of simple statements are then registered. These hypotheses are either formulated anew and/or recalled from old hypotheses previously formulated. All investigators are entitled to address any or all items of evidence, or add items of evidence to the register to be addressed. All investigators may select existing hypotheses directly related to each item of evidence, or formulate new hypotheses. General hypotheses may also be selected and/or formulated by all investigators. All these hypotheses, consistent of simple statements representative of the evidence and the conceptual framework of the investigator are input into a "Black Box" which is designated as a "Theory Generator", and theoretical conclusions are output.



Schematic

(1)Evidence Items are registered E1, E2, E3, ..., En

(2) For each evidence item hypotheses are formulated; P1, P2, P3, ..., Pn

(3) General hypotheses are added GP1, GP2, GP3, ..., GPn

(4) All hypotheses become INPUT to the "Black Box" of the Theory Generator

(5) Theoretical Conclusions are OUTPUT C1, C2, C3, ..., Cn



Image


Dealing with the EVIDENCE is obviously absolutely critical in ancient history.

Arnaldo Momigliano puts it this way ...

    "But I have good reason to distrust any historian who has nothing new to say or who produces novelties, either in facts or in interpretations, which I discover to be unreliable. Historians are supposed to be discoverers of truths. No doubt they must turn their research into some sort of story before being called historians. But their stories must be true stories. [...] History is no epic, history is no novel, history is no propaganda because in these literary genres control of the evidence is optional, not compulsory.

    ~ Arnaldo Momigliano, The rhetoric of history, Comparative Criticism, p. 260



Section 1: How Hypotheses about the evidence lead to Theoretical Conclusions.

1.0 The evidence

Evidence is diverse but its diversity may be broadly categorized into a general range of classifications as follows.


Categories of Ancient Historical Evidence

It should be kept in mind that the parts (1,2,3) below are not necessarily to be delineated, but it is often helpful (and often traditional) to examine the literature traditions and the field traditions as separate and independent sources of evidence. With the emergence of new scientific technologies, new Analytical Support tools are becoming abundant. This schema should therefore not be treated as necessarily complete, but as a DRAFT.

Part (1): The "Literature Traditions"

1.1 the speakers - authors (people, particularly "historians") and their estimable historicity.
1.2 the manuscripts - physical written source - original documents (codices, scrolls, papyri fragments)
1.3 the words - ancient texts: their literature, its scripts, its philology, and its translations.

Part (2): The "Field Traditions"

2.1 architecture, buildings, monuments
2.2 inscriptions in stone and metal and mosaic - the epigraphic habit
2.3 sarcophagi, burial relics, funerary ornaments
2.4 coins (gold, silver and others)
2.5 art, paintings and graffitti
2.6 sculpture, reliefs, frescoes, ornamental works
2.7 archeological relics and other citations
2.8 cadavers
2.9 geographical, climatic and ecological data (on a regional basis)

Part (3): The "Analysis Support Traditions & newer technologies"

3.1 paleographic assessment and dating of original texts, papyrii and papyrii fragments
3.2 radio carbon dating and other scientific dating citations
3.3 multi-spectral imaging and other scientific "reading" technologies
3.4 collective and collaborative databases: epigraphic, numismatic, geographic, climatic, etc.
3.9 the historians - comments and analyses of the above by past and present ancient historians.



Summary for discussion.

The evidence items are mute. They are relics and materials from antiquity. They do not speak. Even a textual story (with "eye-witness testimony") does not tell us whether it is fiction or history, or indeed a parody of a serious issue, or a serious issue. (Poe's Law). For this reason, people have to formulate hypotheses about what the evidence actually represents, about how the evidence is to be evaluated, etc. It is the series of hypotheses about the evidence which are being used to generate theories in ancient history.

If our hypotheses about the evidence are not correct, then the whole machinery becomes reflective of GIGO - garbage in garbage out.

Anyway that's something I put together some time ago but looks like it fits the discussion of the OP.

Criticisms are welcomed.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#54  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 28, 2015 9:56 am

MS2 wrote:There is a thread, not in this section (History) , but with 'Historical' in the title. It's not hard to guess which thread I'm alluding to! I want to stay well away from that topic. But I'm interested in people's opinions on a question which sometimes gets touched on there. Namely, what is it we are doing when we ask, and try to give answers, about ancient history. We aren't doing science (though we might do scientific tests on artifacts, for example) and we aren't trying to prove something (as we might try to prove a case beyond reasonable doubt in court).

So what are we doing? Just offering personal interpretations? I tend to think we at least want it to be more than that, because people talk a lot about 'evidence', and evidence is something that is used to try and make some sort of objective case. And if it isn't anything more than personal interpretation, does that mean we can't say anything meaningful about the past?

An example is found in this thread: http://www.rationalskepticism.org/histo ... l#p2062383. Some folk did some digging and found a structure. There no doubt followed a lot of hard work, a lot of tests, comparisons with other finds, etc etc. But at every stage along the way there will also have been subjective interpretation, guesswork and so on, involved.

Anyway, that's enough of my waffling. I'd be interested to hear whether other people think historical research ultimately amounts to anything more than subjective opinion? (And, if so, why and how!)



Firstly, there is obviously scientific data in many forms such as material culture, of exactly the same grade and robustness as in any empirical science.

Also, just as with the scientific method, hypotheses must be concordant with the evidence. If a prevailing notion of history is shown to be wrong by new findings, then it must be abandoned.

However, the entire point of history is to construct an unbroken narrative - a human explanation of the human affairs of a previous generation. There's always going to be a problem of induction in History - our psychology demands it, but just as with the distinction between science and scientists when it comes to how robust the methodological underpinnings are, so with History.

Certainly many (most?) historians are aware of the potentially tenuous connections they *must* draw to write history. Others will be less so. Regardless, the discipline of history is 'aware' of this, which is why it's become a much more robust discipline methodologically over the generations, just as science has. At the worst reading, it's a form of knowledge acquisition that has to be speculative, but similarly it has to be acknowledged that in speculation there is power to explain and understand.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#55  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 28, 2015 10:02 am

MS2 wrote:
Sendraks wrote:My experience with historians is that information gets broken down into two sections when being disseminated.

1 - what the evidence tells us.
2 - what we might conjecture from that to fill in any blanks in the evidence.

It's usually pretty clear where the line between 1 and 2 is.

It seems to me to get less clear the further you go back in time. That is, almost inevitably, there is less and more ambiguous evidence with ancient history, and so quite often conjecture is needed to conclude almost anything. But maybe I'm thinking here of those TV programmes that 'fill in the blanks' almost to the exclusion of everything else in order to tell us startling new conclusions. Perhaps the academic papers are far more circumspect?


This is a mistake. Evidence is evidence. Whether that evidence is 200,000 years old, or from Tuesday last week. If it unequivocally establishes a point of knowledge, then that knowledge is no more ambiguous or conjecture-laden than any other.

Rather, there are less data points the further back you go - simple erosion takes care of much of that - and as such, the lines which need to be drawn between points are longer and less certain.

I don't watch history channels for the very reason you've pointed out. A TV program, more importantly than anything else, needs to tell a compelling story to keep its audience. It's the heavy fudge end of our cultural recounting our knowledge to ourselves, but has little more to do with the discipline of History than Mermaids: The Body Found has to do with Biology.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#56  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 28, 2015 10:18 am

MS2 wrote:
Clive Durdle wrote:Francis Prior in his book Home discusses how very careful archaeology enables a very real picture of what happened.

I'm sure it is very careful, but (at the risk of upsetting igorfrankensteen) doesn't archeology also involve a good deal of what might be termed 'assumptions' and 'subjective interpretation'? I'm thinking of things like dating techniques which require identification of particular pieces of pottery as being of a particular style, etc.


Then so does Palaeontology as well. Underlying all your points is the a question regarding the problem of induction. The philosophy of science is well aware of this and therefore requires prediction-making and falsification. Likewise, history can and does apply exactly the same methodological caution.

Let me give you an example from my own field. I studied pre-historic humans - there's not even a narrative source left by them, no written record. However, there were trends in the material culture they produced, just as there were trends in pottery that can be identified by their style. Stone tools can be identified by their shape, by the way they were formed, by their location, by their depth in the ground, by analysis of the surrounding soil and remnants on the tools themselves.

But more importantly, professionals in this area of knowledge can go to a field that's covered in naturally formed stones and with little more than a brief inspection, pick out the man-made tools from the field of rocks (This is the same with palaeontologists spotting fossils, and with material culture historians with pottery shards). Those professionals can also immediately identify the tool, when it was made, and what it was used for. Of course, their word is not simply taken as gospel - tests are still conducted to corroborate the finding, but the point remains that the human brain trained to a particular task is a wonderfully competent piece of biological machinery.

It's not the points of data which are the methodological problem here, it's the narrative we construct to paint the setting in which those points of data existed.


MS2 wrote:I don't see how you can do experiments to test your historical hypotheses?


I find some mysterious tool fragments from a layer around the Nile which is from a time period we know nothing about. I propose that there was a resident population in this area, and I dig to find out if my claims are corroborated by further evidence. I find that evidence in the form of ancient hearths, more tools, various grains and produce from a complex society. I now propose new ideas based on that, then go looking for further evidence to establish that claim.

This is surely the way knowledge progresses? We may only be human, and we may often be wrong, but methodologically it is, I think, proven beyond doubt that formulating and testing hypotheses is a sure way to sort the empirical wheat from the psychological chaff. But it's slow and it's cumulative and it relies on making errors just as much as it relies on getting things right. Often, being able to say that something definitely did not happen, something definitely is not true, is just as valuable as establishing an affirmative position.

We're not going to wholly evade psychological and ideological fudgings in our expectations: we exist within a narrative that suggests we look at things in certain ways. But we can ensure that our methodologies are honed towards minimizing their effects on our knowledge-acquisition.
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#57  Postby Spearthrower » Jun 28, 2015 10:26 am

MS2 wrote:
Thomas Eshuis wrote:
MS2 wrote:
Clive Durdle wrote:Science does not mean only experimental science!

So are you saying history is/can be science? If so, in what sense?

It's a so called 'soft' science, like sociology.

Hmmm. I think some people would regard it as being one of the humanities rather than a soft science. But OK, I can see (as illustrated by this thread!) that some see it as a science. For myself, I agree that done well it will be open to revising its hypotheses in the light of new evidence, and in some ways this can be seen as equivalent to the testing that goes on in science, but I'm not sure that makes it actual science.


The reason why History is a social science or part of the Humanities is the requisite narrative - the unbroken chain of events - which is the desired output of a historical endeavour. We want to know the whys when it comes to human actions, and History tries to furnish us with that.

But doing History well isn't about relying only on empirical evidence - one can only rely on the evidence that is currently there. We still want to try to formulate ideas based on even the most scanty shreds of evidence, and those idea in turn produce new avenues of research which will lead to yet more vistas of knowledge and so on.

Even doing stuff wrong teaches us how to do it right. It's the burned-hand-teaches-best form of methodology! :)
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#58  Postby Clive Durdle » Jun 28, 2015 10:57 am

I think that there is only one way to science – or to philosophy, for that matter: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and fall in love with it; to get married to it and to live with it happily, till death do ye part – unless you should meet another and even more fascinating problem or unless, indeed, you should obtain a solution.

But even if you do obtain a solution, you may then discover, to your delight, the existence of a whole family of enchanting, though perhaps difficult, problem children, for whose welfare you may work, with a purpose, to the end of your days.

Karl R. Popper


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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#59  Postby Clive Durdle » Jun 28, 2015 11:07 am

Maybe the problem is that the notion of two cultures is mistaken?

There are sets of tools and processes and algorithms and ideas that may be used in any area in various combinations.

There are however, broken tools, illogicalities and similar that should be screened out.

Doing science is therefore a goal orientated process with quality control mechanisms.

So art and history use scientific tools. Physics isn't actually a science, is it's main tool, maths a science?

What is "a science"?

Maybe the mistake is creating these things "the arts" and "the sciences"? Maybe the questions should always be about the quality and effects of the various tools?
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Re: What is 'ancient history'? I know it's not science, but ...

#60  Postby MS2 » Jun 28, 2015 11:33 am

Spearthrower wrote:
MS2 wrote:
Thomas Eshuis wrote:
MS2 wrote:
So are you saying history is/can be science? If so, in what sense?

It's a so called 'soft' science, like sociology.

Hmmm. I think some people would regard it as being one of the humanities rather than a soft science. But OK, I can see (as illustrated by this thread!) that some see it as a science. For myself, I agree that done well it will be open to revising its hypotheses in the light of new evidence, and in some ways this can be seen as equivalent to the testing that goes on in science, but I'm not sure that makes it actual science.


The reason why History is a social science or part of the Humanities is the requisite narrative - the unbroken chain of events - which is the desired output of a historical endeavour. We want to know the whys when it comes to human actions, and History tries to furnish us with that.

But doing History well isn't about relying only on empirical evidence - one can only rely on the evidence that is currently there. We still want to try to formulate ideas based on even the most scanty shreds of evidence, and those idea in turn produce new avenues of research which will lead to yet more vistas of knowledge and so on.

Even doing stuff wrong teaches us how to do it right. It's the burned-hand-teaches-best form of methodology! :)

Many thanks for your constructive responses, here and above. :thumbup:
Mark
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