+ Reply to Thread
Results 1 to 14 of 14

Thread: I'm tired of histories of politics

  1. #1
    Friend of the Devil Plushie's Avatar
    Darkest HourEuropa Universalis 3Europa Universalis: ChroniclesEU3 CompleteEU3 Napoleon's Ambition
    Victoria 2

    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    The Commonwealth
    Posts
    599

    I'm tired of histories of politics

    It seems like all of written history is a history of politics. Even so-called 'social histories' end up being histories of how politics interact with 'society'. Go turn on the history channel or something and they have a history of the building of some important building and it ultimately ends up being about the politics surrounding the building of that building.

    I want to read a history about people. That is, I want to read a history about how some guy's life went as he was born, learned what little he could living on some farm somewhere, met a girl, found a sustenance of his own, had some kids, and died. It sounds boring, but that's only because of the complete lack of detail. World War freaking Two sounds boring at that level of detail. Some German dudes caused a ruckus in Eurasia, a couple Americans played a deadly game of whack-a-mole with some Japanese guys, and a big fat Italian man kept screaming for attention. Whoop-de-do.

    The details are what matter. But nobody's life ever gets recorded unless they went into politics or something related. The best history I've ever read are those small glimpses of this very micro-historical stuff but it's never really...preponderous. I read a fun little history of my county written in the early 1900's and the best bit of it was a description of this guy's journey up the Delaware River. Fun stuff. But even that was freaking politics. He was a employee of the Dutch West India Company. The real best bit of the best bit was the short description of the first few families who moved into the area a bit after this guy's exploring. I wanted to know more. How were the lives they lived? Not just in terms of how grueling was it dealing with living across an ocean from everything that makes much sense to you, but I mean...what were they like? Who were they? Why did the one guy marry the wife he had? Which little girl did the lone little boy have a crush on? How many weeks did the one family spend building their hovel? What did they aspire to?

    And even that's really still politics. They were all brought in by the WIC. What about the history of the people living in, say, Bedford in 1825? Who knows, right? What about that one guy in Bedford who ran the store? What about him?

    There isn't enough of this kind of history.
    "...history is not one darn thing after another, it is the same darn thing over and over. "
    "After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons" - Article the First, proposed amendment to the US Constitution
    ...aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden. -- Out of timber so crooked, as from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built. - Immanuel Kant

  2. #2
    There are some semi-autobiographical novels written by gentry and nobles, explorer/governor recording the natives and archives of court cases that have documented the lives of the defendants as reference, but come to think of it, these are also either too shallow or politics related...

  3. #3
    Major The-Doc's Avatar
    Arsenal of DemocracyDeus VultEuropa Universalis: ChroniclesFor The GloryEuropa Universalis: Rome
    Rome: Vae Victis500k clubEuropa Universalis IV

    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Texian Empire
    Posts
    551
    Sounds like you need a break. Have you heard of an American historian by the name of Page Smith? He was a bit of an iconoclast historian (with impeccable credentials) that felt a historian's first duty was to relay a narrative account of history to the general public, almost like a storyteller. He wrote a gargantuan eight volume "People's History of the United States" and he constructs almost all of it from individual primary accounts, and not just the usual suspects either. It is fairly deep and impressive in scope, but still makes for light recreational reading, and I think you might enjoy it, and it isn't too hard to find at used bookstores or on Amazon/Ebay.
    "Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists." - Joseph de Maistre

  4. #4
    Friend of the Devil Plushie's Avatar
    Darkest HourEuropa Universalis 3Europa Universalis: ChroniclesEU3 CompleteEU3 Napoleon's Ambition
    Victoria 2

    Join Date
    Nov 2006
    Location
    The Commonwealth
    Posts
    599
    Quote Originally Posted by The-Doc View Post
    Sounds like you need a break. Have you heard of an American historian by the name of Page Smith? He was a bit of an iconoclast historian (with impeccable credentials) that felt a historian's first duty was to relay a narrative account of history to the general public, almost like a storyteller. He wrote a gargantuan eight volume "People's History of the United States" and he constructs almost all of it from individual primary accounts, and not just the usual suspects either. It is fairly deep and impressive in scope, but still makes for light recreational reading, and I think you might enjoy it, and it isn't too hard to find at used bookstores or on Amazon/Ebay.
    It's certainly interesting looking, and I will definitely check it out someday when I have $150 to spare, but really just highlights what I'm talking about: Everything is part of the political narrative. You can't just hear about the way things were going for this group of people here, it has to be placed -- forced, one might say -- into the political context of the time. I guess you might call what I'm really jaded about newspaper history. History told like a particularly detailed newspaper. I don't want that anymore, I'm pretty sick and tired of politics in general and I'm becoming just as sick and tired of the effect politics have on the telling of human history.
    "...history is not one darn thing after another, it is the same darn thing over and over. "
    "After the first enumeration required by the first article of the Constitution, there shall be one Representative for every thirty thousand, until the number shall amount to one hundred, after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall be not less than one hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every forty thousand persons, until the number of Representatives shall amount to two hundred; after which the proportion shall be so regulated by Congress, that there shall not be less than two hundred Representatives, nor less than one Representative for every fifty thousand persons" - Article the First, proposed amendment to the US Constitution
    ...aus so krummen Holze, als woraus der Mensch gemacht ist, kann nichts ganz Gerades gezimmert werden. -- Out of timber so crooked, as from which man is made, nothing entirely straight can be built. - Immanuel Kant

  5. #5
    Major The-Doc's Avatar
    Arsenal of DemocracyDeus VultEuropa Universalis: ChroniclesFor The GloryEuropa Universalis: Rome
    Rome: Vae Victis500k clubEuropa Universalis IV

    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Texian Empire
    Posts
    551
    Well it can be found for much cheaper, especially if you buy by the volume (usually in the 5-10 dollar range). It's true though that he does give the individual accounts with an eye towards telling the larger story. What I took away from it though is that he did so because he finds the sum of small lives to be the real mover of history.

    Might even say that politics can't be separated from individual lives, unless we focus on the very minute details and history doesn't leave us too many of those. Maybe we can't even read history, or at least justify getting to study and write about it without trying to fit everything into a pattern or greater sense of meaning. Give anyone an account of disparate facts and they'll go right to work summarizing and drawing connections.

    But to try and stay constructive, I've heard this book is pretty good, and it seems to focus more on ordinary life. Of course it could have a heaping dose of WW2 or New Deal commentary tacked on for all I know.
    "Wherever an altar is found, there civilization exists." - Joseph de Maistre

  6. #6
    You must be reading bad books then. Nowadays good history books will always feature a comprehensive approach including analysis of the society, everyday life etc. The thing is, for a long time history was a science of texts, and ancient texts are mostly about politics. Nowadays they are trying to integrate what we have learned thanks to archeology etc. But a history without politics would be as stupid as a history with only politics, I think.

  7. #7
    Irken Tallest Arilou's Avatar
    Hearts of Iron 2: ArmageddonCrusader Kings IIDeus VultEuropa Universalis 3Divine Wind
    For The GloryFor the MotherlandHearts of Iron IIIHOI3: Their Finest HourHeir to the Throne
    Europa Universalis III: In NomineKing Arthur IIMarch of the EaglesEU3 Napoleon's AmbitionVictoria: Revolutions
    Europa Universalis: RomeSemper FiSword of the Stars IIVictoria 2Victoria II: A House Divided
    Victoria II: Heart of DarknessRome: Vae VictisWarlock: Master of the ArcaneCK2: Holy KnightEuropa Universalis IV: Pre-order
    Warlock 2: The Exiled

    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Quasispace
    Posts
    6,851
    Blog Entries
    5
    Quote Originally Posted by Plushie View Post
    It seems like all of written history is a history of politics. Even so-called 'social histories' end up being histories of how politics interact with 'society'. Go turn on the history channel or something and they have a history of the building of some important building and it ultimately ends up being about the politics surrounding the building of that building.

    I want to read a history about people. That is, I want to read a history about how some guy's life went as he was born, learned what little he could living on some farm somewhere, met a girl, found a sustenance of his own, had some kids, and died. It sounds boring, but that's only because of the complete lack of detail. World War freaking Two sounds boring at that level of detail. Some German dudes caused a ruckus in Eurasia, a couple Americans played a deadly game of whack-a-mole with some Japanese guys, and a big fat Italian man kept screaming for attention. Whoop-de-do.

    The details are what matter. But nobody's life ever gets recorded unless they went into politics or something related. The best history I've ever read are those small glimpses of this very micro-historical stuff but it's never really...preponderous. I read a fun little history of my county written in the early 1900's and the best bit of it was a description of this guy's journey up the Delaware River. Fun stuff. But even that was freaking politics. He was a employee of the Dutch West India Company. The real best bit of the best bit was the short description of the first few families who moved into the area a bit after this guy's exploring. I wanted to know more. How were the lives they lived? Not just in terms of how grueling was it dealing with living across an ocean from everything that makes much sense to you, but I mean...what were they like? Who were they? Why did the one guy marry the wife he had? Which little girl did the lone little boy have a crush on? How many weeks did the one family spend building their hovel? What did they aspire to?

    And even that's really still politics. They were all brought in by the WIC. What about the history of the people living in, say, Bedford in 1825? Who knows, right? What about that one guy in Bedford who ran the store? What about him?

    There isn't enough of this kind of history.
    There is a bit of microhistory, usually it ends up being connected in some way to something extraordinary (usually a crime, since legal records is one of the few places where pre-modern people get to talk to us) It can still get us a bit of a picture though, since they often start with the person describing who they are and what they do.
    "Man is free; but his freedom does not look like the glorious liberty of the Enlightenment; it is no longer the gift of God. Once again, man stands alone in the universe, responsible for his condition, likely to remain in a lowly state, but free to reach above the stars.."
    -Jean-Paul Sartré

  8. #8
    Irken Tallest Arilou's Avatar
    Hearts of Iron 2: ArmageddonCrusader Kings IIDeus VultEuropa Universalis 3Divine Wind
    For The GloryFor the MotherlandHearts of Iron IIIHOI3: Their Finest HourHeir to the Throne
    Europa Universalis III: In NomineKing Arthur IIMarch of the EaglesEU3 Napoleon's AmbitionVictoria: Revolutions
    Europa Universalis: RomeSemper FiSword of the Stars IIVictoria 2Victoria II: A House Divided
    Victoria II: Heart of DarknessRome: Vae VictisWarlock: Master of the ArcaneCK2: Holy KnightEuropa Universalis IV: Pre-order
    Warlock 2: The Exiled

    Join Date
    Aug 2002
    Location
    Quasispace
    Posts
    6,851
    Blog Entries
    5
    Quote Originally Posted by Plushie View Post
    It's certainly interesting looking, and I will definitely check it out someday when I have $150 to spare, but really just highlights what I'm talking about: Everything is part of the political narrative. You can't just hear about the way things were going for this group of people here, it has to be placed -- forced, one might say -- into the political context of the time. I guess you might call what I'm really jaded about newspaper history. History told like a particularly detailed newspaper. I don't want that anymore, I'm pretty sick and tired of politics in general and I'm becoming just as sick and tired of the effect politics have on the telling of human history.
    Well, to be blunt, politics *is* human history. Or rather, human history is politics. Or humans interacting is politics, however you want to describe it.

    There's no point where humans interact with each other that does not have political ramifications.
    "Man is free; but his freedom does not look like the glorious liberty of the Enlightenment; it is no longer the gift of God. Once again, man stands alone in the universe, responsible for his condition, likely to remain in a lowly state, but free to reach above the stars.."
    -Jean-Paul Sartré

  9. #9
    The personal is political.

  10. #10
    Lt. General Comrade Chaos's Avatar
    Crusader Kings IIDarkest HourDeus VultEU3 CompleteDivine Wind
    For the MotherlandHearts of Iron IIIHOI3: Their Finest HourHeir to the ThroneMarch of the Eagles
    Rome GoldSemper FiSword of the StarsSupreme Ruler 2020 GoldSupreme Ruler: Cold War
    Victoria 2Victoria II: A House DividedVictoria II: Heart of DarknessPride of NationsCK2: Holy Knight
    500k clubEuropa Universalis IV: Pre-order

    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Northern Michigan
    Posts
    1,496
    I'm gonna link you to a, albeit semi-political, story of a Russian deserter in the Caucasus in 1802 who stole the mouthpieces of his regiment's silver trumpets and ran to the Persian border. The local Persian prince and heir to the throne, Abbas Mirza, welcomed him, had him recruit more deserters, trained Persian soldiers (Abbas was a very pro-European reformer), and eventually led an all-Russian contingent of 800 men under the Persian banner. All the while, the Russian government tries to negotiate with the Persians to return the deserters and the Persians end up locking the men in a barracks outside Tabriz. It takes until 1839 for the Russians to get the deserters to "return home".

    http://marksrussianmilitaryhistory.info/Persdes2.html

  11. #11
    humorless pedant joak's Avatar
    Crusader Kings IIEuropa Universalis 3EU3 CompleteVictoria 2CK2: Holy Knight
    500k clubEuropa Universalis IV: Pre-order

    Join Date
    May 2001
    Location
    elswhere
    Posts
    1,416
    Plenty of stuff.

    The Merchant of Prato, which I read recently (although it's not new) is based on letters and papers of a more-or-less self-made Tuscan merchant ~1400. Barest mention of some of the Florentine political stuff--mostly because they hit him up for taxes--but his main goal was to avoid getting involved, so he could get rich and maintain a decent family life. Lots of letters about business, complaining to his wife, planning for his daughters' wedding, and so on. I'd recommend it.

    Overall, it seems like a decent amount of books are written simply because there is documentation--it's just these tend to be modest in scope and aimed at scholars who have years to edit papers and cross-reference against parish records or something. Popular writers then convert them into histories that pretend to be about someone or something obscure but are more an attempt to trick people who like memoirs into reading real history ("Galileo's Daughter", for example, was a great read IMHO but was actually about Galileo and the Church, the name was a gimmick.)

    Then, on a broader scale, something like Braudel's Civilization and Capitalism. 3 big volumes, does it mention politics except in the most tangential way, like to explain how Austrians learned a new recipe for bread?

    Histories of technology and art are usually pretty devoid of politics--not always, but often. "Einstein's Clocks, Poincare's Maps" was a good one--unless you count academy disputes.

    I haven't read the "History of Private Life" series but talking to someone who did they sound rigorously micro.
    "I'll get paid for killing, and this town is full of people who deserve to die. " -- Sanjuro, Yojimbo

  12. #12
    History of Private Life is pretty hit and miss--some of the chapters are excellent, and others live up to all the worst stereotypes of Continental academic writing.

  13. #13
    Second Lieutenant
    Crusader Kings IIEuropa Universalis 3Divine WindFor the MotherlandHearts of Iron III
    HOI3: Their Finest HourHeir to the ThroneEuropa Universalis III: In NomineEU3 Napoleon's AmbitionSemper Fi
    Victoria 2Victoria II: A House DividedVictoria II: Heart of Darkness500k clubEuropa Universalis IV: Pre-order

    Join Date
    Dec 2009
    Location
    Utrecht
    Posts
    176
    You might try Montaillou by Emanuel Le Roy Ladurie or The cheese and the worms by Carlo Ginzburg, both thoroughly microhistorians (and sadly barely readable in my opinion). I always enjoy Herfsttij der Middeleeuwen bij Johan Huizinga, but that's because I'm a native Dutch speaker. English translations seem to be pretty horrible.
    Sadly though (in your case), most of microhistory and history focusing on culture in a broader sense nearly always has a connection to politics as politics and things related to it were documented rather good. Therefore a book like Montaillou can't ignore the roman inquisition and Huizinga has to focus heaviliy on the Burgundians.

  14. #14
    List Curator neondt's Avatar
    Crusader Kings IIEuropa Universalis: ChroniclesMagickaMarch of the Eagles500k club
    Europa Universalis IV: Pre-order

    Join Date
    Jul 2011
    Location
    Ye Olde Jersey
    Posts
    1,472
    If for some reason you've taken all leave of your senses and have decided to become an expert on the everyday lives of early modern English peasants and minor aristocrats, I can thoroughly recommend the following:

    K. Wrightson & D. Levine, Poverty and Piety in an English Village: Terling, 1525-1700 (2nd. ed., Oxford, 1995. G. Nair, Highley: The Development of a Community, 1550-1850 (Oxford, 1988).

    D.G. Hey, An English Rural Community: Myddle under the Tudors and Stuarts (Leicester, 1974)

    M. Spufford, Contrasting Communities. English Villagers in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries (Cambridge, 1974). (more general but gives context)

    M. McIntosh, A Community Transformed: The Manor and Liberty of Havering, 1500-1620 (Cambridge, 1991).

    Microhistory can be really, really tedious.

+ Reply to Thread

Posting Permissions

  • You may not post new threads
  • You may not post replies
  • You may not post attachments
  • You may not edit your posts