Forest Clearing
Forest Clearing. Photo by J-Hob.

Archaeolog and Traumwerk in gen­eral are Good Things in my opin­ion. It’s a con­veni­ent way of keep­ing up with what’s going on in the archae­olo­gical main­stream with hav­ing to travel sev­eral hours to attend a brief sem­inar at a dis­tant uni­ver­sity. Occasionally some­thing will come up that makes me ser­i­ously ques­tion whether what I’m doing is remotely archae­olo­gical or whether I am solely an ancient his­tor­ian who uses archae­ology. Matt Edgeworth’s piece The Clearing: Heidegger and Excavation is an example of some­thing where it’s not so much that I dis­agree with it, it’s that I can’t work out where there might be a com­mon frame of ref­er­ence.
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Where does your history start and my history end?


Korean History village
Korean, not Chinese, his­tory. Photo by Matthijs Gall

There’s an brief but inter­est­ing art­icle on Yonhap News today, President Roh expresses regrets over China his­tory pro­ject.

South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun on Sunday expressed regrets to Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao over Beijing’s his­tory research pro­gram that claims part of Korea’s ancient his­tory as its own.

What I find inter­est­ing isn’t that it hap­pens, but rather that it doesn’t hap­pen more often. The English ori­gin myth is that they’re all Anglo-Saxons, yet tra­di­tional his­tor­ies are tied to the land rather than people. This makes sense for archae­ology, it’s asso­ci­ated with the ground, but his­tory is rather more mal­le­able as it can also be gene­a­lo­gical as well as loc­a­tional. The pop­u­lar English dis­in­terest in 1st mil­len­nium AD Germany is a curi­os­ity. Instead if you look at English Heritage it’s gen­er­ally about the land rather than the people. Hence the con­flict in Cornwall, where some people object to sites built thou­sands of years before the Anglo-Saxon arrival as English her­it­age.
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Why Truth Matters by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom


Why Truth MattersI’ve had Why Truth Matters on the shelf for a while. I’ve read it a couple of times and dipped into it to re-read chapters many more. It’s a safe bet I like this book, but is it a good book? This ques­tion per­haps mat­ters for this book more than most. It’s a book about the import­ance of reason, evid­ence and above all truth.

It opens with an intro­duc­tion couple of chapters talk­ing about what we mean by ‘truth’ and how philo­soph­ers have tackled the sub­ject before mov­ing on to recent chal­lenges to the concept of truth. Later chapters are case stud­ies from vari­ous con­texts, such as dog­matic attacks on bio­logy, the ‘empower­ment’ or oth­er­wise of oppressed peoples and in aca­demia. It’s thought­ful and well-presented. Rather than vague attacks on post-modernists or other bogey­men, it cites spe­cific examples and explores either the reas­on­ing, or what has been sub­sti­tuted for reas­on­ing, behind vari­ous claims. I think its a reas­on­able explor­a­tion of the topic and by and large I agree with the con­clu­sions which is where the big prob­lem arises.

Do I like this book because it is a good book or because it con­firms my pre­ju­dices about cer­tain authors?
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There may be no atheists in Vauxhalls but there was one in a Volkswagen


Rusty Volkswagen Beetle
Mine wasn’t in such good con­di­tion. Photo by Andreas Reinhold.

I’m trip­ping up over a lot of really quite vicious anti-atheist posts recently and it seems I’m not the only one. Via Coturnix comes the news that the tired line “There are no athe­ists in fox­holes” has been brought out for a fresh air­ing, this time by Lt. Gen. Blum who charm­ingly said “Agnostics, athe­ists and big­ots sud­denly lose all that when their life is on the line.” Obviously any slur there upon people serving their nation is entirely ima­gin­ary, though Archy dis­agrees. But is Lt. Gen. Blum or a satan­ist cor­rect to say people aban­don a lack of faith when the chips are down? It’s one of those things that sounds like it might make sense. If things are going really badly wouldn’t you take any option?

It might be dif­fi­cult to know if it is true. I haven’t been in a fox­hole for reas­ons explained by Coturnix at God, Country and Apple Pie nor shot at by trained pro­fes­sion­als. The only people who have shot at me did so on a purely recre­ational basis. On the other hand I think I have had enough of a test to know I wouldn’t call on a god. In fact if I were con­cen­trat­ing on avoid­ing uncer­tain death it prob­ably wouldn’t occur to me to call on a god for help.
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Why fool an idiot when intelligent people will fool themselves?

I could be your magician Photo (cc) jin.thai

I could be your magi­cian Photo (cc) jin.thai

There’s all sorts of reas­ons why pseudos­ciences flour­ish. One which is over­looked is that it’s not stu­pid people who get taken in. In fact if you’re plan­ning a suc­cess­ful career in decep­tion there are plenty of good reas­ons not to tar­get stu­pid people. A fool and his money are eas­ily par­ted, so they’re not likely to be rich. They’ll explain your story to oth­ers in simple terms, expos­ing you pretty quickly. Finally stu­pid people need things explained to them care­fully. It’s a lot of hard and unne­ces­sary work. I’ve an ama­teur interest in magic, espe­cially men­tal­ism. Cold read­ing isn’t a magic tech­nique, but it’s a use­ful skill to have to add fin­esse to tricks. The one of the ways it works may also explain one of the reas­ons people find pseudos­ciences so compelling.

Put simply Cold Reading is a way of provid­ing some words and leav­ing the mark to make sense of it. In much the same way a hole-in-one is simply hit­ting a golf ball so that it lands in the hole at the first attempt. I’ll try and give some examples but like a lot of tricks they look mundane once writ­ten down.

Here’s my first pre­dic­tion.
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Is being a good Historian in the genes?


[Cross-posted to Revise & Dissent]

Historian in jeans
Historian (in jeans no less). Photo by Gerard Van der Leun.

One of the prob­lems in being a slow thinker and slow in com­ment­ing is that often you find someone has already said what I’m think­ing, and said it bet­ter than I would.

An example is a debate fol­low­ing the recent History Carnival at Air Pollution. Our host Andrew Israel Ross opened the debate.

Last night I was in the middle of a con­ver­sa­tion that I think hap­pens quite fre­quently amongst grad stu­dents in the human­it­ies, at least those informed by his­tory. Do mem­bers of oppressed groups today have spe­cial access on the past of those groups? In other words, do gay people or Black people, have a spe­cial claim to an under­stand­ing of the gay or Black past? My answer: yeah, I’m afraid so. And I say this even though one of my favor­ite queer the­or­ists hap­pens to be a mar­ried woman.

This has been chal­lenged by ADM at Blogenspiel. ADM’s pos­i­tion is:

[I]t’s pretty easy to be a medi­ev­al­ist — and I think it’s easier the earlier one goes … but we really are in ‘the past is a dif­fer­ent coun­try’ land. We don’t have to worry about identi­fy­ing with the people we study in the way Ross dis­cusses. We try to under­stand them and make them more under­stand­able to oth­ers, but that’s dif­fer­ent. Because Ross is wrong about this. In fact, I would argue that what he sees as being bet­ter insight is just a faster way to bad history.

Who’s right? I’ll don my weasel suit and say they both are, but you’re wel­come to dis­agree in the com­ment box below or on either of their sites.

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If you don’t debunk alternative archaeology then what’s the… umm… alternative?

Ancient Sumerians. Photo by Santa Rosa

I had a slight worry a few weeks back. I found a book that tackled a large swathe of altern­at­ive archae­ology telling the truth about it. The sub­title was The Disinformation Guide to Ancient Civilizations, Astonishing Archaeology and Hidden History. It was a sur­prise because I keep kick­ing around an idea of writ­ing my own dis­in­form­a­tion guide. I flipped it open the con­tents page and found that it’s prob­ably an uncrit­ical trip through altern­at­ive archae­olo­gies greatest hits. So it’s not quite what I want to do.
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