Dustbowl Empiricism

jackson lears on effectively combining history & theory.

I worked from history to theory, and I tried to use theory to inform but not imprison my understanding of historical experience. An anti-theoretical bias is particularly strong in Anglo-American historical circles: in part it represents a healthy suspicion of fashionable (usually French) slogans and catchwords masquerading as ideas. But the hostility to theory can also be rooted in a narrow and unimaginative cast of mind: Alfred North Whitehead called it ‘dustbowl empiricism.’ …My own view is that without an occasional dose of speculative boldness, historians are doomed to the deadly antiquarianism for which they have rightly been scorned, since George Eliot gave us the archetypal pedant-historian Casaubon in Middlemarch.

— Jackson Lears, Preface (1983) to No Place of Grace: The Quest for Alternatives to Modern American Culture, 1880-1920

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