Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Historical studies today: all theory, no practice?

Larry Kramer, reviewing a deeply researched book on gay history in 19th century Britain, says something we seem to hear frequently:
This is a very important book. It may even be a historic book, one with which gay history can arm itself with more sufficient factual veracity as to start vanquishing at last the devil known as queer studies. Queer studies is that stuff that is taught in place of gay history and which elevates theory over facts because its practitioners, having been unsuccessful in uncovering enough of the hard stuff, are haughtily trying to make do.
I seem to hear versions of this about history, English, social studies, Canadian studies, all forms of humane studies, really. The lament is that they are all theory no data, that no one, and particularly no one in the academy, where they ought to have the money and the time, is inclined to put in the archival hours required to actually gather original data. It's easier to spin theory.

Is this just not-like-in-our-day harrumphing? If it's true, what gives? But more important, has anyone actually gathered the data on this one?
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