Historians believe that the past is irreducibly complex and the future wildly unpredictable. Scientists disagree. Who’s right?
‘Historical facts’ are not discrete items, awaiting scholars to hunt them down. They need to be created…
The danger here, of course, is that these approaches tend to assume that the natural sciences are capable of producing objective knowledge, and that mirroring their methodologies will produce ‘better’ knowledge for the rest of the academy. Half a century of research in the history of science has shown that this perspective is deeply flawed. The sciences have their own history – as indeed does the notion of objectivity – and that history is deeply entwined with power, politics and, importantly, the naturalisation of social inequality by reference to biological inferiority. No programme for understanding human behaviour through the mathematical modelling of evolutionary theory can afford to ignore this point.
The researchers also found that roughly 175 years ago, the population of Coast Tsimshian in the region declined by as much as 57 per cent. This coincides with colonization and the spread of diseases such as smallpox, the accounts of which have also been passed down in First Nations oral tradition.
“Science is starting to be used to basically corroborate what we’ve been saying all along,” said Barbara Petzelt, an archaeologist with the Metlakatla First Nation, one of the researchers in the study.
“The ongoing dispute over the authenticity of a scrap of papyrus from the ancient world highlights a larger question of how history is established.”
“Both sides are looking at the same credit-card-sized scrap of papyrus, with the same words in the same hand in the same ink. Both sides are represented by members of the same academic community—those who continue to push for the authenticity of the GJW are highly respected scholars, as are those who are calling it a forgery. Yet the two sides are approaching the papyrus from completely distinct angles, and getting completely different results.”
Earlier article on the same subject