Monthly Archives: January 2011

Toohey Notes (HUM303, 415)

Here are my notes on Toohey. Hope they help. If you have questions don’t hesitate to address them to the comments section of this post.

Notes on Peter Toohey, “The Cultural Logic of Historical Periodization” from Handbook of Historical Sociology (2003)

Note the opening paragraph: the lures of periodization. As an aid to study. Yet the act of periodization may be “romantic”– i.e., may give a exotic gloss to the past by converting it into another country (209). One way to consider this point is to imagine a journey into antiquity via time machine. Assuming you could, say, master Attic Greek and leap across millennia to the Age of Sophocles, what would you find? It’s this kind of mystery that attracts the historian in some sense: the desire to enter an historical space totally “other” to the present.

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Culture Redux (HUM 415)

The point of these three readings– Williams, Brooker, Toohey– is to place two fairly basic concepts into brackets, to convert them into heuristics in order to sharpen our critical perspective on the study of culture and history.

Theoretical writing is intended to defamiliarize the world we live in, to challenge common sensical assumptions. Unquestioned, unexamined, common sense simply excuses us from thinking. Thus Catherine Belsey writes:

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First Post: Identities (HUM470)

Just the title of American Autobiography is already front-loaded with several assumptions. The first we discussed briefly in class:  the word American has been used repeatedly since First Contact to describe people who live across the Americas, from the Arctic Circle to Tierra del Fuego. Properly speaking, “America” is common property– though this modest objection tends irritate those for whom America always means the US. More importantly, perhaps, with “American” we confront the idea of national (i.e. collective) identity. It’s worth asking the question: What is a Nation? Is it identical with the State? Is a nation, as some say, a People? What, then, are a People? If the nation is not determined by consanguinity (“blood”) or race then what factors– conditions, ideologies, affinities and loyalties– bind it together?

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First Post: The Contemporary (HUM415)

Let’s define our terms. Contemporary Culture, so the Schedule of Classes goes, concerns “Issues and achievements in art, thought, and society during the 20th century; literature, fine arts, philosophy, and history.”  That’s a pretty broad portfolio, and in the interests of tightening focus I’d like to define “the Contemporary” according to the narrowest of periodizations, from about 1973 to the present. The cogency of that division of history is not necessarily obvious and in what follows I’ll try to make a case for it. First, however, we ought to distinguish between several uses of the term “contemporary” in common usage. The Oxford English Dictionary (that gold standard of lexicons) devotes its first three definitions of the contemporary to something like “coevalness”:

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First Post: Text and Context (HUM303)

In Cultural Periods and Styles we’ll be working within the Modern Era, or roughly from 1492 to the present. This span of years is, in itself, a traditional periodization, one that foregrounds two related events of that year. The first, odds are, you already know: the Columbian “discovery” of America. The second is equally as important in world-historical terms and has a particular resonance with the contemporary (another periodization) geopolitical scene: the Reconquista, or the moment when the last vestiges of Islamic rule in the Iberian Peninsula were extinguished. That latter process took centuries to unfold and ended with the expulsion (ethnic cleansing) of almost the entire Muslim and Jewish population of Al-Andalus. Notably, then, historians of the Modern Era have often chosen to emphasize not only the opening of the “antipodes” as the projection of “Western” power (in all its forms: military, technological, political, etc.) but Europe’s reconsolidation against the “foreign” element of Islam.

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