Thursday, July 14, 2011

Musings on theory, method, and history...

To be honest I don't think there is such a thing as historical methodology as a distinct phenomenon. If history is about going to the primary source material to "discover" history than history is not unique. Virtually every "discipline" that I know of has its own primary source material whether it is the universe of physics and astronomy, the DNA of biology, the films of Film Studies, or the television shows of television studies.

Moreover, the history that historians do is as constructed as any other intellectual enterprise. Historians like to tell others and like to tell themselves, presumably in order to rationalise what they are doing, that they are simply doing a Sgt. Friday, i.e, collecting facts from primary source material and constructing a historical tale out of it. But it is not as simple as that. In my dissertation on the history of Mormon Studies I try to show that historians constructed Mormon Studies by "reading" Mormonism through the intellectual prisms that have come to dominate academia in the post-Enlightenment period, economics, politics, culture, geography, demography.

While some might try to argue that these theoretical prisms of economics, politics, culture, geography, and demography arise out of the primary source material, I would argue that these intellectual frames are imposed on the primary source rather than products of it. Those who converted to Mormonism in the early and mid-nineteenth century, for instance, did not say, as contemporary academics do, that I became a Mormon because of economic changes brought about by the building of the Erie Canal in upstate New York or that I became a Mormon because I hated the democracy that was rising in Jacksonian America. They claim they became Mormons because they believed Joseph Smith was God's prophet and that the book he claimed to have translated and the revelations he claimed to receive were of divine origin. Academics, of course, generally eschew and dismiss such theological and metaphysical explanations.

There is, I think, a unique problem with some variants English, Film, and TV theory. Crystal ball textualism, or as my mentor at Notre Dame Gene Halton calls it, the doughnut approach to literature, film, and TV, has the theory down but it cuts, as Halton notes, the heart or the dougnut hole out of that theory. Crystal ball textualists to the contrary, you simply can't gaze into a a literary text, a film, or a television programme and divine, as if you were looking into a crystal ball, everything about that text. Archival work, interviews, and actual audience research is necessary to fully understand what goes into the making of a film and how audiences watch films.

No comments:

Post a Comment