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Fighting to Keep Our History Holistic!

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There is much available with the rise of the computer and internet, but it seems that a lot coming out these days is just plain bad research, and recycling of historical mistakes.
“Where did things go wrong?”

Back in 2000, I met Dr. Julian Granberry, who has published an amazing amount on native languages. Besides a very enlightening private dinner with him, his lecture about the languages of the native people in Florida before the Europeans, until the time when the Calusa and Timuquans vanished from the scene, was one of the most memorable anthropology lectures at the Central Florida Anthropological Society that I ever remember. He has still published some memorable works, and in the forward of these books, gives some clues to what went wrong.

Besides Dr. Granberry’s “A Grammar and Dictionary of the Timucua Language,” Third edition from 1993, are a couple of his other lesser known works.

“The Americas That Might Have Been, Naïve American Social Systems Through Time” 2005.

“The Calusa Linguistic and Cultural Origins and Relationships” 2011. (Both from The University of Alabama Press.)

In “The Americas That Might Have Been,” Dr. Granberry explains that since his academic work started in the 1940s, he came under the mentoring of several people who are legends in the anthropology field. They influenced him to seek a more holistic approach to anthropology.

Front--The Americas that might have been--small

Back--The Americas that might have been--small

And that is, to truly understand a people and culture, you have to seek out Everything you can about them. Leave no stone unturned. That was my epiphany back around 1997; I had to take in the good and the bad. All things need to be examined as a facet of the people. I could not choose what I wanted and ignore other things.

Granberry says that anthropology began as a formal academic discipline with an emphasis on describing human cultural behavior holistically. That methods of ethnography, linguistics, and archaeology were seen as inseparable techniques for gathering and interpreting interlocking data on human behavior present and past. (From “The Americas That Might Have Been,” page 5.)

My Mom was an anthropologist, and I think that is what she tried to impart to me on the subject.

Granberry continues; after WWII, the holistic view gave way to what may be called, compartmentalized anthropology, with increasingly limiting research to gathering and analysis of data on only a single, specialized aspect of culture, weather language, artifacts, religion, economics, politiccs, the arts, warfare, ect. That the aspects of anthropology became separate disciplines, where experts on one facet gradually distanced themselves from the other fields. (Also mostly from Granberry, 2005) This has been the main approach by universities since the 1960s. This has resulted in those trained in this compartmentalized view result in few conversant with all the branches of anthropology and fewer yet with any interest in a holistic examination of human cultures. (Granberry, page 6.)

My Mom lamented this. She was a social, or cultural anthropologist. Sociology was her main focus. I would say her main degree, but she had several! She was a very active member in the FAS and CFAS in Orlando in the 1960s-1990s. When there were a lot of speakers on the subject of archaeology and artifacts, she lamented over this, because she wanted to see more talks on the social or cultural aspects. She said that she wanted to know more about the people when they were alive, not wait until they were dead!

But over the past few years, it seems that things are gradually going to a more holistic approach, but it will probably take as many years to undo the damage that’s already been done by compartmentalization and fragmenting the academic system.

Why have I gone over all this? And believe me, I am trying to give a short, to the point answer.

The reason why, is because this all struck home with me. I have seen the same thing in history and historical research. Much recent published about the Seminole Wars is poorly researched and written. By people who do not even reference original or common sources. So you have a major college professor on a lecture on C-Span who calls General Andrew Jackson, “Stonewall.” That is unforgivable. For those who are reading this, I hope you understand that AJ and Stonewall Jackson were two entirely different people of different times. And this dumbing down of history is probably true with all of historical research in general, not just research in the Seminole Wars.

So recently while visiting David Southall down in Bonita Springs, he gave me something he wrote up, “The Five malpractices of modern history.” It is really exactly the same thing that I was talking about above. David said that he merely compiled this from different sources, and doesn’t want to really take the full credit. But here are the “Five malpractices:”

1. Post Structuralism—to believe that only groups, not individuals give meaning to the whole. This trap makes us consider people not as individuals but as members of a group. They consider everyone on the merits of their group membership. This is coupled with the belief that the Bill of Rights protects the rights of the minority from the rights of the majority, not the rights of individuals from an overreaching government. Poststructuralists avoid “an account of facts,” believing instead that history is subjective and must therefore be individually interpreted based on the way one feels about what happened.

My own add: There are great men, and women, who do great things. Have great people in American history become marginalized? We now have American history school books that do not mention George Washington, and Abraham Lincoln has become the “vampire hunter.” This is probably the result, of why primary sources of research, like letters that the officers wrote during the 2nd Seminole War, or official adjutant reports, seem to be ignored. Would there not be some value at seeing what people wrote who were eyewitnesses to events, even if we don’t really agree with them?

2. Modernism. Modernism is to use a modern context to interpret any events whether fairly recent on in the distant past. For example, Thomas Jefferson attended church in the Capitol building during his presidency. He even ordered the Marine Corps band to play for the worship services. Some would look at this through a modern lens and say he misunderstood the Constitution, but it is more likely to say that he understood it, but we’ve grown to misunderstand it now. Certainly the guy credited with the letter about separation of church and state knew what he was doing here. Modernists sidestep “causes and effects,” by avoiding historical context and substituting modern thought and attitudes to interpret the past.

My own add: This is especially true with Army officers and their view on Seminoles during the 2SW. Many think that it was just bad white guys who were racist, who just wanted to kill all Indians. What the Indian removal did was terrible, which we all agree upon. But if you really read as much as you can on the times from personal journals and accounts; and I encourage everyone to do so; you will find things to be maybe different than what you thought. I find blatant racist attitudes more from people who were less involved in the war. Everyone had their own family, problems, and issues. Few officers were really supportive of the war, and most found it futile to continue with it. Many were very sympathetic to the Seminoles, like John T. Sprague, who wrote the Florida War book. Others exhibited hatred, like Lt. Anderson’s journal in the FHQ about 12 years ago, when he laments of personal friends of his were killed in the war. People will say that the US won the war. Or that the Seminoles did. My answer is that nobody won.

3. Academic collectivism. This trap happens when a series or set of academics agree amongst themselves and reference each other’s works to back up their assertions. They rarely, never, or selectively go back to historical documents for fact-finding. Instead they simply cite one another’s work to support their own theories. This tends to get away from anything based on history and ends up allowing them to support the agenda of their choosing. It is an incestuous relationship.

Academic Collectivism relies on the claims of “experts” rather than original documents as the standard for truth. It promotes an incestuous, complex bureaucratic system of peer review scholarship as the sole measurement for determining whether a historical fact is correct or false. Academic Collectivist avoid “a narration of events,” preferring instead to narrate only what other so-called “experts” have said about those events.

Ever wonder why you keep seeing the same figures? You will see the same academics constantly referred in programs, talks, lectures, conferences, and videos. That’s because these “experts” give each other the grants and money for doing these programs.
They are really lacking when you check their bibliography, and see what is missing of eyewitness accounts or journals. Or they add a book to the bibliography when it is obviously that they have not even opened the cover. An example is a recent much-touted biography about Osceola. The author mentions Dade’s Battle and has the information about it horribly wrong, and then has one of Frank Laumer’s books in the bibliography. Yes, only one of Frank’s books on the subject; but had he even read it, he would not have gotten wrong what he did.

4. Minimalism is the practice of focusing on a tiny subset of what was happening at a time in the past as though that is all that was happening. An example would include saying that we separated from England because of taxation without representation. This is one of the reasons but it is one of several reasons. Unfortunately that is probably the only reason most school children could give today. Minimalists sidestep “causes and effects,” by dismissing, because examining them would make things too complicated.

An example from Seminole war times, is to say that Andrew Jackson was concerned about Indian Removal. Yes he was, but it was not the top priority he faced as president. It was probably about fourth down the list. More pressing issues were nullification and succession; the Bank of the United States and its control over the economy without being elected or answerably to anyone. Then there was the Texas Republic succeeding from Mexico, and Canadian rebellion in the north threatening to drag us into a war with Great Britain. As much as we like to focus on removal, there was a lot of other things happening at the same time.

5. Deconstructionism. A steady stream of negativity designed to tear down the positive image in the minds of people. When the historians and press only focus on negative aspects of the founding era from the Founding Father’s lives, people are not aware of the positive things, or the morality of many of their beliefs and actions. It changes our attitude toward our country and its founding. Deconstructionists avoid telling about events in the way they happened, preferring instead to selectively pick out a few things in order to construct a negative image.

Thus, our image of the founding fathers is as a bunch of randy bastards having illegitimate children with their slaves. We tend to lump them all in one negative category and forget that they were not all like that, if they even were, and that they somehow managed to draft the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and Constitution, that have been the foundation of our government and country for about 240 years. We seem to forget our privileges and freedoms that we enjoy are not common among other nations. Who were these extraordinary minds who created these documents?

So the best advice I can give when exploring history, anthropology, or archaeology, is to leave no stone unturned. Examine and learn everything you can on the subject. Form your own opinions, and not fall in line with others.
Current Mood:
accomplished accomplished
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