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Thursday, May 4, 2017

Theories of History and Pre-History

As I get further into researching Celtic history, for both my family genealogy book and a future novel, there are contrasting theories (I mentioned a little of this in an earlier post HERE). Lo and behold, in an older (1975) book titled The Celts: The People Who Came out of the Darkness by Gerhard Herm, the author doesn't even pretend to have all the answers. Refreshing!

Herm states at one point, referencing an amateur being derided by experts, that even those so-called experts "have had to admit that they were themselves guilty of bias" toward the amateur who, they said had "a tendency to tailor pieces of prehistory to fit his own ... theory."

Herm then goes on to explain that:
"This practice [of tailoring] is not, however, uncommon, even among reputable scholars. Indeed, used in moderation, it is quite legitimate. It is rather like trying to do a jigsaw that refuses to come out by starting at a different corner. If it works, so much the better. If it fails, the attempt should not be condemned out of hand but should be classed among the many models that have, over the years, been set up only to be knocked down again. Indeed many useless hypotheses belong among those sorts of wrong answer that must be given so that we can know why they are wrong." 
Further, Herm states that:
"The existing facts have grown into such a mountain that a survey would take a whole lifetime, without guarantee of result. Hypothesis has to be our core-sampler: with it we can probe the mountain, in the hope of being rewarded with unexpected insight. I have in what follows had occasion to use such methods, and studies whose arguments, though plausibly founded, cannot be conclusively proven. At best the result will be a picture that ought to be looked at with caution: this is how it might have been. If it was not, no doubt we shall one day find out."
I would personally step back from even the optimism of that last sentence. For one reason, because the "facts" used are often not facts themselves but interpretations and theories. Secondly, I do like his cautionary approach, but would view the theories as likely to remain in the realm of "this is how it might have been." Herm doesn't address this once, but regularly throughout his book, like when trying to find the answer to a particular question, he writes that, "to answer it we must persist with hypotheses and the sparsest evidence." I truly did find his openness to possibility delightful.

I'm glad that I've placed Herm's older book at the top of my reading list, for it more easily lends itself to later thoughts and ideas.

1 comment:

  1. A tantalizing history . . . and I agree that we should be wary of anyone who claims to have all the answers.


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