RPTM Podcast Episode Fifty One: The Aftermath of War, Pinkertons, Camel Corps, and the King of Beaver Island
Essentialism is the view that things have a set of characteristics crucial to their identity. Historically, ideas that declare that
identities such as race, ethnicity, or gender are important factors have been shown to have harmful or toxic effects in many cases. Essentialist thinking lies at the core of many prejudiced or extremist doctrines.
Almost every component of modern Western history can offer troubling instances of doctors and scientific specialists classifying humans into basic types. It is not surprising that history students view science and medicine as essentialist areas. In 2015, associate professor Lisa Forman Cody wrote an article for the American Historical Association about race essentialism. Say says essentialism in history as a field of study entails discerning and documenting essential cultural aspects of a particular nation or civilization in the assumption that they can comprehend a people or culture in this way.
Sometimes such essentialism leads to declarations of a respected national or cultural identity, or its contrary, the denunciation of a culture based on assumed fundamental characteristics. Herodotus, for instance, asserts that Egyptian civilization is feminized and maintains a "softness," which has made Egypt easy to overthrow. To what capacity Herodotus was an essentialist being a matter of discussion; he is also credited with not essentializing the image of the Athenian identity or contrasts between the Greeks and the Persians that are the matter of his history.
These and other instances of racial essentialism render lively classroom conversations. Students acknowledge how specialists have shown themselves as authoritative, adept at constructing ubiquitous assertions about human essence, often on the grounds of, even anecdotal proof. It's easy for researchers to comprehend that historical essentialist opinions have mirrored modern views about race, gender, sex, and other categories, fortifying hierarchical power dynamics. Consequently, essentialism in history delivers some particularly explicit stories to illustrate the working of principles.
Yet it is so easy to gather racial essentialism in such general terms that it acts as a straw man with little historical nuance. By clumping together all unsavory claims about race, gender, sex, and other human classifications as essentialists, we are in jeopardy of treating all "-isms" as operating the same way. Professor Cody tells us that not all essentialism was and is the same. She says, "we should not essentialize essentialism, especially if we hope to challenge it in contemporary conversations and policies."
As we delve deep into the mines of historical thought, we need not stray too far from my original history rules. Much of what I write about and speak about is the celebration of multiple lenses when investigating history. Race indeed is a tenet of anyone's story, but only one. Class, gender, and even ethnicity create a more profound and fuller picture of a person or a historical event. The American experience for a Chinese day laborer varied incredibly between a man and women in the 19th century American west.
4:28 The Aftermath of War
19:15 The Camel Corps
25:21 The King of Beaver Island
30:08 The Pony Express
What was the American Civil War?
American Civil War Explained
10 Things You May Not Know About the Pinkertons
United States Camel Corps
How a Mormon king shaped a sleepy island in Lake Michigan
Beaver Island (Lake Michigan)
10 Things You May Not Know About the Pony Express
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