Friday, March 21, 2008

Ideas/Method/Technology

Sunset for Ideology, Sunrise for Methodology? a post at Found History, is being widely read in the history blogosphere. Tom Scheinfeldt writes:
Growing up in the second half of the 20th century, we are prone to think about our world and our work in terms of ideologies. Late 20th century historical discourse was dominated by a succession of ideas and theoretical frameworks. This mirrored the broader cultural and political discourse in which our work was set. For most of the last 75 years of the 20th century, Socialism, Fascism, Existentialism, Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Conservatism, and other ideologies vied with one another broadly in our politics and narrowly at our academic conferences.

But it wasn’t always so. Late 19th and early 20th century scholarship was dominated not by big ideas, but by methodological refinement and disciplinary consolidation....

I believe we are at a similar moment of change right now, that we are entering a new phase of scholarship that will be dominated not by ideas, but once again by organizing activities, both in terms of organizing knowledge and organizing ourselves and our work. My difficulty in answering the question “What’s the big idea in history right now?” stems from the fact that, as a digital historian, I traffic much less in new theories than in new methods.
Continue reading this very interesting essay here. The comments take up the question of whether theory vs. methodology is a false dichotomy. Surely we need innovations in both. Hat tip.

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