History and the historical turn

When I think of the book that has taught me more in poli sci, a candidate that always comes to mind is Luebbert’s ‘Fascism, liberalism and socialdemocracy‘. There are others, of course. But few of them are quantitatively sophisticated. Perhaps, after all, I should have become a historian or an ethnographer.

If you read some of the great comparatists of the 80’s, most of their research is highly historically informed. In academia, people were scholars, professors whose competence spaned a large number of fields.

After a conversation with one of those persons today, I was somehow shocked of finding myself surprised. It has in fact become rarish to encounter in academia people with a vast area of knowledge. Most of the time, I think this is for the best: if you are going to do American politics, it is perfectly fine that you ignore say, the role that the civil service examination system played selecting elites in imperial China (just an example of something that is highly irrelevant to my research). In fact, many of those conversations work against parsimony of any sort. If this allow the conversation to concentrate on relevant, technical points instead of getting distracted by randomly .

Yet, I sometimes feel nostalgic of that time, and even if it is highly impractical, I would like that everyone was able to mantain an educated conversation. More paradoxical is the fact that this is true nowadays even under the “historical turn”. More and more, people seem to be interested in using exogenous historical accidents as a strategy for identification. But these acccidents do not seem to have pushed people to be more historically cultivated..

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History and the historical turn

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