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Oliver Rackham Seminar: Morag Ramsey
Oliver Rackham’s seminar focused on the impacts of factoids and pseudo-ecology when it comes to fields such as our own. While the article for the seminar was from the mid 1990s, it still holds relevant advice to those who are not super familiar with ecology and the potential pitfalls that come with studying historical ecology in particular.
In this instance, pseudo-ecology is a brand of ecology based on factoids, which are fondly described as “a statement that looks like a fact, makes sense like a fact, commands the respect due to a fact, and has all the properties of a fact except that it is not true.” (Rackham, 1996) This is obviously problematic if one is searching for ecology or history based on reality.
Rackham uses a case study of ancient Greece to emphasize how pseudo-ecology comes to pass. It is clear when reading Rackham’s article that he feels misinterpretation of data, partly caused by lack of socio-cultural understandings of language and words, confused earlier scholar’s work on the ecology of ancient Greece. In addition to Rackham’s article, “Ecology and pseudo-ecology: the example of ancient Greece,” he distributed a handout with tongue-in-cheek advice on how to write pseudo-ecology and pseudo-history. Between these two sources, Rackham’s criticisms of pseudo-ecology were very clear. In fact, I associated what Rackham described as pseudo-ecology and pseudo-history, as being very close to the topic of ‘traditional history writing’, which we discussed last term in Benjamin Martin’s class. In our prior class, we looked at the limited sources and efforts historians could formerly use to write, and how it has changed today.
This emphasis on thoroughness while writing and doing research sometimes seems like slightly obvious advice, but I feel it is important to consider especially when entering into new academic waters. As for many of us in this Masters program, much of the material is relatively new or from a different angle, thus being given somewhat obvious advice can actually be quite beneficial. As for myself, being given examples of how soil erosion is prevented in many different ways and how that transformed academia on Ancient Greece may help me think critically about my future historical and ecological assumptions. It seems easy to see a lack of critical thinking in hindsight, but I am sure it can be difficult to navigate everything as a researcher at times with different ideas all over the place. So hopefully being given straight forward advice about the matter will encourage more critical thinking and the chance to implement Rackham’s advice.
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