9 Mar 2018

Academic Just So stories

Sometimes academics present a "just so" version of history that lays aside complexities interfering with their narrative and hypothesis.

This habit is not unique to academics, as humans love to tell stories (reason reason reason)

  • Guns Germs and Steel is a wonderful book, but some historians question its scope and conclusions
  • The author of Shadow Wars claims that Western merchantilists are the "main" forces affecting countries around the world, but such a claim overlooks the role of other powers (Russia, Japan, China) as well as local actors (hello corruption!)
  • Was Europe's "rise" based on separate nation states that shared intellectual developments, or perhaps their struggles to beat each other and then take over the world in the 17th to 20th centuries?
Bottom Line: Human social, political and economic interactions are far too complicated to fit into a clean narrative, so question just-so stories and look for other important influences if you want to avoid an over-simplified perspective on reality.

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