First, Lets Get Some Definitions Down Packed…..
“ Cultural history is concerned with the signs, symbols, rituals and practices that historically shape ideas, beliefs, habits and action. It is concerned with uncovering the meanings embedded in forms of cultural interaction defined in the anthropological sense of a ‘whole way of life’.”
“ Poststructuralists …focus on language and culture as autonomous realms of social practice, exploring the ways that these practices are produced and contained by language itself. For poststructuralists there is nothing prior to language. The social world is only apprehended through the lens of language.” – Garton (2003)
Move away from focusing on influential men, to a focus on other social groups such as women and Indigenous Australians
Poststructuralism is not the only significant influence on cultural history. To comprehend the past we need tools and concepts to allow us to grasp the cultural contexts in which the remnants of the past have been produced.
experienced within relatively independent cultural frameworks.
Cultural frameworks are the product of: action, invention, imagination and social practice, and the political, social and cultural conflicts emerging out of contests over power and meaning. Reconstructions require theories. Theory is not an optional extra
What is Poststructuralism? What has been its influence in this field?
Poststructuralists focus on language and culture as independent realms of social practice, exploring the ways that these practices are produced and contained by language itself. There is nothing prior to language . The social world is only understood through the lens of language , therefore you need to know how language produces culture.
Making History Historians always construct larger worlds from fragments and evidence only takes on meaning when placed in an appropriate context. We must acknowledge that evidence is only part of the picture. Although some historians parade common sense as their interpretation, and others proclaim theory at every turn we can’t take either of these positions as the most applicable.
Difference between books which add valuable evidence and don’t advance our understanding of the past, and books with add immeasurably to our understanding of the past because of the sophistication of the empirical research. (eg. Jane McCalmans’s Sex and Suffering)
Poststructuralism is not an overlay, masking a poverty of research, but it is a way of opening out and exploring detailed empirical research, offering new ways of viewing the past.
Tom Griffiths : draws on a diverse range of theoretical traditions(ideas of people as history makers), Foucaldian concepts of discourse and classification
Catharine Coleborne, Ros Pesman, David Walker …. They all interpret the evidence to illuminate our understanding of the past. Joy Damousi is a striking example, examines ways in which convict women were constructed as ‘depraved and disorderly’ and how these representations arose out of specific forms of resistance to masculine colonial authority. Damousi deploys poststructuralist concepts to uncover the sexual dynamics of colonial society. Tim Rowse – draws very effectively on Foucaldian concepts of discourse, power and governmentality. He delivers a fresh and insightful study of assimilation policy. Study comes out of excellent empirical research but also is shaped by the new ways Rowse read the evidence, deploying poststructuralist concepts to raise original and rewarding questions.
These concepts and approaches have failed to please critics such as Windschuttle and Evans. They think it’s a crisis in the discipline, but it’s not, it’s a thriving culture of historical debate.
What is in all works Garton has chosen as good examples, is detailed empirical research enlivened by new ways of interpreting the evidence. This requires concepts and ideas that come from theory. Good Poststructuralist history requires excellent research but history is always more than the discovery of facts, it is the placement of facts in contexts, the conferral of meaning, the weaving of fact and context into a coherent and defensible narrative of the past. It also involves an awareness of the constructed nature of historical narrative.
Past doesn’t suit outside the present, but is constructed within culture, and requires a system of exposition to make it comprehensible.
Windschuttle’s choice is one between competing theories and methods not one between fact and theory. Windschuttle and Evans are calling for a narrowing of our historical vision. They want to cling to the idea of a knowable past and the historian as an objective commentator . The arguments of Wind and Evans are a call for a return to the history of ‘dead white males’.
Windschuttle and Evans threaten to make us captives of the past.
What constitutes good history is the opening up of novel ways of seeing the past and forging of new connections between past and present. Cultural history and Poststructuralism have the potential of achieving this end. There are ways of escaping the poverty of empiricism.
These historians ignore arguments that evidence contains silences, and that we need to read them against the grain to uncover these excluded social groups. Evidence itself is a historical process, one shaped by politics and power.