Part II Barber and Berdan, Methods

I like the point the authors make about resisting the urge to label as liars those who create documents we find to be untrue or embellished.  Using the categories of “emphasis, selection, and distortion” to analyze the “tainted” nature of sources helps us to avoid this pitfall (see pg. 164).


Visual Interpretation

B and B’s ideas on interpreting visual images was interesting.  Altogether I think they did a good job of synthesizing a vast array of perspectives and I feel that their criteria are relevant.  May I add a though I gleaned from the work of Carolyn Dean and Dana Leibsohn who made an argument about interpreting material and visual culture (in the context of early Spanish America ethnohistory). The authors show that ethnohistorians are “programmed” to search for the pre-Hispanic indigenous elements in colonial society, making an argument for cultural persistence.  Unfortunately, many ethnohistorians forget that “hybridity” goes both ways.  For example, when building a Cathedral in Cuzco, the native Andean workers used stones from a “pagan” temple and used traditional construction methods to build the cathedral–piling up massive mounds of dirt then rolling the stones up then on rolling logs.  This example points to what Dean and Leibsohn call the “deception of visibility.”  In Mexico, native officials drew up land grants and used traditional glyphs to draw up maps.  Historians found later that a Spaniard had edited the map but used the native glyphs rather than Spanish-style iconography.  I think Dean and Leibsohn add an important insight for interpreting visual images (and any other source for that matter) by suggesting that we should no be simply looking for signs of “nativeness” but rather focuss on the mechanisms by which hybrid cultural expressions are made and enacted.  Moreover, that we tune our historical eyes to the various ways in which Europeans received and adopted new cultural practices.




After having read ALL of Hayden White’s Metanarrative (for 664) I appreciated Burke’s suggestion that to ‘get around’ him historians simply might write an alternate ending.  A simple, yet sophisticated response to literary critics who suggest that historians need to recognize the “emplotments” of their own narratives.

What is the difference between context and structure for Burke?  At times, Burke’s analysis did not weigh the complicated nature of the “structure”, or theoretical positioning of the analyses reviewed in this work.  Because it’s not just a stylistic tension between narrative and structure, but a profoundly political choice mired in distinct world-views and circumstances.  In the end, I felt as though Burke was suggesting that the historical exercise is about entertaining; though, I know this would not be his position.

Barber and Berdan Part I


I thought tracking the definition of “ethnohistory” in the journal Ethnohistory was clever.  I was curious so I found the most up-to-date definition at their web page.  Here it is:

The journal of the American Society for Ethnohistory

Ethnohistory reflects the wide range of current scholarship inspired by anthropological and historical approaches to the human condition. Of particular interest are those analyses and interpretations that seek to make evident the experience, organization, and identities of indigenous, diasporic, and minority peoples that otherwise elude the histories and anthropologies of nations, states, and colonial empires. The journal publishes work from the disciplines of geography, literature, sociology, and archaeology, as well as anthropology and history. It welcomes theoretical and cross-cultural discussion of ethnohistorical materials and recognizes the wide range of academic disciplines.

Clearly this definition follows the trend of “expanding” its categorical borders.  From “primitives and peasantries” to “non-industrial peoples” to “ethnic peoples” to “cultures and societies in all areas of the world” to “indigenous, diasporic, and minority peoples” (current).

What does the evolution of these terms and their usages suggest about broader historiographical trends from the 50s to now?

Do you think that Barber and Berdan’s definition (page 12) is too broad when contrasted to the definition that appears on Ethnohistory website today?

Barber and Berdan’s analysis focuses on North American (heavily anthropological) ethnohistory.  What can we say about parallel (or prior) developments of “ethnohistory” in other nations/regions?