From owner-h-history-and-theory@H-NET.MSU.EDU Wed May 31 09:00:17 2006
Sender: H-Net Discussion List on Philosophy of History <H-HISTORY-AND-THEORY@H-NET.MSU.EDU> From: History and Theory Editors <hist-thr@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU> Subject: Two Historiographic Roads to Nomad history To: H-HISTORY-AND-THEORY@H-NET.MSU.EDU

From: Tom Verso <> Date: Tue, 30 May 2006 09:21:44 -0400 Subject: Two Historiographic Roads to Nomad history

Two Historiographic Roads to Nomad history

By Tom Verso, H-History-and-Theory, 30 May 2006

Robert Fogel and G. R. Elton represented history's “traditional narrative” vs. “social scientific” rift as “two roads to the past” (”Which Road to the Past?” 1983). Historians viewing this schism dialectically rather than an either/or debate, and teachers of methods courses wanting to present a balanced view, may find interesting a comparison of Rene Grousset's narrative history of Nomads (”The Empire of the Steppes” 1970) and Toynbee's analytical history of the same (”A Study of History” vol. 3 pp.7-22, pp.395-456; vol.11 maps # 12A, 12B).

Grousset's book is a quintessential example of ‘traditional narrative’ history. A description of individuals, groups of people and events on the Eurasian continent in a temporal sequence from the second millennium B.C. through the 18 th century A.D. Filled with cultural anecdotes (religion, food, clothes, art, ethics, etc.), geography, great battles, conspiracies, etc.; it reads like drama. Any historian interested in the history of Eurasia will find this incredibly well documented narrative intellectually and aesthetically satisfying. However, there is one aspect of Grousset's narrative that would motivate scientific minded historians to seek supplemental presentations such as Toynbee's. Implicit in Grousset's narrative, and I believe narratives generally, is the ‘Great Person’ causal theory of history. Whole chapters and sub-chapters are devoted to personages such as Jenghiz-Khan, Tamerland, etc.

Causality, it seems to me, is the point where the historiographic road forks into the ‘narrative’ and the ‘social scientific’ branches. For example, Toynbee notes there are two models for explaining the “eruptions of nomads from the Steppes into sedentary societies”: [1] “spontaneous expressions of the Nomad's human initiatives” and [2] “eruptions mechanically produced by external forces on the Nomads” (p. 396). The traditional narrative lends itself to the first explanation and social scientific the second. In the manner of science, Toynbee posits a “mechanical external force” hypothesis: “either a pull exerted by one of the sedentary societies in the neighborhood of the Steppes, or else a push exerted by the climate of the Steppes.” Again consistent with scientific method, Toynbee recognizes that this “proposition [i.e. hypothesis] requires proof.” (p 396)

The process of proving/disproving his hypothesis entailed “tabulating as many of the historic eruptions as can be ascertained from the surviving record.” That table, corresponding text, and maps list all the know Nomad groups erupting from Eurasia and Afroasia into the sedentary beginning in 2025 B.C. through the early 20 th century, dates, 15 geographic points of invasions, the extent of penetrations, and the sedentary counter invasions . With the data organized as such, Toynbee was able to search for correlates of eruptions and counter invasions with climatic conditions on the steppes and social conditions in the sedentary societies.

In sum, 40 years before David Landes and Charles Tilly stipulated “the three salient characteristics of social scientific history: aggregation, theory & empiricism, and systematic comparison”, Toynbee was writing history as such (”History as Social Science” 1971, p. 73). Indeed, the outpouring of criticism of his work came from the giants of early 20 th century narrative history shocked by this revolutionary historiography. Today, decades after the founding of the Social Science History Association, historians have a frame of reference to evaluate the respective virtues and short comings of the “Two Roads to the Past.”