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Objectivity and Bias and the Social History and Cultural History Approaches

For this discussion please read the following:  “What is Ethnohistory?” and Suny – “Back and Beyond: Reversing the Cultural Turn?” –> both of these pieces will give you an excellent introduction to the emergence of the New Cultural History.  Then, turn to the example of the New Cultural History as used by a historian –> Clendinnen: “Yucatec Maya Women and the Spanish Conquest – Role and Ritual in Historical Reconstruction”. Also review the link in the Week 4 introduction to the Pittock Mansion (in Portland, Oregon) to see an example of the Social History approach used in a museum setting.

As many of you are starting to realize, getting at the historical experiences of non-elites is essential for a fuller understanding of the historical past.  This week we look at a new approach that sought to illustrate the historical experience of the “common person” – the Cultural History approach (but keep in mind that you can also use the Cultural History approach to look at elites).

As you think about these approaches, consider the following questions; address them in your initial post this week:

1. What is the Cultural History approach about?  Look to Suny and “What is Ethnohistory?”. How does the inclusion of anthropological approaches help the historian understand “culture” better? (look to his discussion if Clifford Geertz). What sort of historical topics would the Cultural History approach help us better understand?

2. According to Suny, what are some of the challenges of this approach?

3. How did Inga Clendinnen use the Cultural History approach in her examination of Mayan women?What did the Cultural History approach explain that more materialist/structural approaches might have missed in an examination of Mayan women? Note:  one thing you should think about with her piece is how can she talk about the experiences of Mayan women during the colonial period, when they themselves did not leave much in terms of primary sources about their lives?  This addresses earlier concerns many of you had about the scarcity of sources left by non-elites – what are the sources Clendinnen uses, and how does she “read” these sources to understand the historical experience of Mayan women?  As you read this piece, look closely at the footnotes -where do her sources come from?

4. What is the Social History approach about and how is it different from the Cultural History approach? How is it used by the curators at the Pittock Mansion to show visitors what the material conditions of life were like for the wealthy in Portland in the late 1800s?

Post your initial post here. Then come back and respond to at least two more of your peers’ initial posts along with any questions addressed to you. Please ask lots of questions in this discussion, especially if things remain fuzzy for you.

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