Tuesday, July 29, 2008

23 May 2005

(A paper written for Gender and Family History. This class focused on Europe and the Middle Ages.)

In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth, the King James Bible tells us. God went on to create birds and animals and fish, and then he noticed that the man had created was lonely. In an odd oversight, the God had somehow neglected to make a mate for man. Placing the man into sleep, God took a rib out of man, and turned the rib into woman. (Gen. 2) And God said that this was good.

While this is a quaint story, two important ideas can be discerned that should hold weight for both Christians and Jews. First, the impetus for the creation of woman was the need for a companion to man. Next, woman was made from the side of man, symbolically making her equal to man. Much later, in the New Testament, Paul declared that it was better for those unmarried to stay unmarried, so they could concentrate on worshiping God (1 Cor. 7:33), but that marriage and sex in marriage were not wrong. In the discussion, Paul clearly speaks of physical desires of sex with no mention of procreation, and says this is not wrong.

In the writings of Augustine, the encroachment of the Church into new territory can be seen. Not content with merely stipulating that marriage must occur for sex, and further delineating who can marry whom, the Church has begun to decide what the motivation for sex should be, with sex not done for the express purpose of procreation now being labeled a sin. This erosion of marital liberties continues even further, as seen in the later Penitentials.

In the Penitentials, the Church now mandates which sexual acts are sinful, not only by participant, but even by position. Specific penalties are given for a laundry list of acts, and sadly, even marriage done exactly as commanded by the Church now carries some measure of sin, as evidenced by the decree that that newly married couples do penance for forty days. It is obvious by this time that the Catholic Church has created a dichotomy for women. On the one hand, women apparently have some taint of evil, and it is their natural lot to suffer; on the other, Catholicism now is focusing on prayers to Mary, the perfect mother of God. It is possible that this is some reflection in Europe of what will be thought of as Romantic love, which was also dualistic, with an ideal woman with whom relations were never consummated and physical relations with women who were barely more than objects.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Creating an Authentic History

(Based on a paper written for Dr. Mark Fissel in HIST 3001, January 2005.)

John R. Shirley
Is recorded history literature? It is indisputable that, being written, history is indeed literature, but by this definition, everything written, in every scientific field must also be literature. With this in mind, one can go on to question whether written history is a scientific literature, and the answer to this takes but a moment to realize: just as there is junk “science”, so there is also junk history, and the sole determinant between authentic and unsubstantiatable written history must be the methods utilized in gathering and processing the data used.

History- in the sense of things that have happened before this instant- is like a board game. Geology provides the game board, as well as some of the pieces. Geology dictates through soil what crops can be grown, as well as providing or withholding areas flat and high or low enough to grow those crops. Geology further dictates what metals are in a region, whether an area has clay suitable for pottery, or if there is limestone or rock for building. Biology through its heirs of zoology and botany determines what flora will flourish, and what animals do or can live in a region, when combined with meteorology. All these sciences create the board on which history is played, the game pieces with which it is played, and dictates the rules for play.

After the fact, it may be easy for those outside a situation to wonder, “what happened?” It is literally impossible to know accurately what a person is thinking. Motives, therefore, can never be determined with as much precision as some other questions, but in any given historical situation, a solid grounding in the sciences affecting the region will enable a process of determining what resources were available to any player. A simple definition of anthropology could be the study of what people do. Archaeology can be defined as a part of anthropology, or it can be considered its own science. In either case, it can be simply defined as the study of what people did- and left behind to prove it. It is the task of the historian to take the natural sciences, and using archaeology and written history, unite them with the social science of anthropology to create a seamless picture of what has previously transpired. It then falls to the reader to determine whether the picture drawn is scientifically crafted, or just rhetoric.

Science is concerned with both observable fact and repeatability. Observable fact is much appreciated, but by virtue of its documentation of events that have already happened, exact repeatability is impossible for historical records. By careful utilization of science, the historian can eliminate the impossible, and discover the plausible, to extrapolate the likely. Combining scientific aids with discerning research and an open mind, the historian can create a body of work that, if not strictly science, is far removed from fiction.


I was digging through many of my saved papers, and decided it is appropriate to create a dedicated history blog. Historically Speaking has already been snatched up by writer Nancy Castaldo, so The History of Us seemed like a good title, both because history is alive and we act in it, and because in a nation sense, the U.S. will be most represented. Enjoy.