Darwin-L Message Log 4:81 (December 1993)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

Note: Additional publications on evolution and the historical sciences by the Darwin-L list owner are available on SSRN.

<4:81>From idavidso@metz.une.edu.au  Sun Dec 19 17:42:06 1993

Date: Mon, 20 Dec 1993 10:45:14 +0700
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
From: idavidso@metz.une.edu.au (Iain Davidson)
Subject: Re: Greenberg, Renfrew, Ruhlen, proto-World

Rindos wrote:

>Sally Thomason noted:
>>    Greenberg's major successes have been among nonlinguists --
>> anthropologists and biologists.  His Amerind family is beginning to
>> turn up, for instance, in standard anthropological textbooks.  It's
>> hard to tell how this will turn out in the end: if linguists continue
>> to reject Greenberg's findings, it seems at least possible that,
>> eventually, anthropologists and others will also become skeptical.
>> But maybe not, and then we could have a situation where a set of
>> proposals that are rejected by specialists are accepted uncritically
>> by all nonspecialists.
>Reading this I was struck by the resemblance of the second alternative to
>what actually *occurred* in fields such as anthropology during the late
>19th and early 20th Centuries.  The transformational and orthogentic
>evolutionisms of the non-Darwinians seemed to have "migrated and colonised"
>disciplines other than biology and since then have remained pretty much
>alive and well despite an "extinction" in biology itself.
>It's a rather interesting process with clear biogeographical parallels. I'm
>curious about the way in which it occurred.  I assume that intellectual
>sources were originally shared, with the biologists leaving this shared
>intellectual tradition as neo-Darwinism came to hold exclusive domination
>of theorising in their field.  But there may be more to it.  Is anybody
>aware of cases where individual biologists switched their area of
>publication so that they could maintain their theoretical perspective as a
>result of the paradigm shift?

The parallels are probably quite widespread in disciplines which cross
disciplinary boundaries (and archaeology of course is reknowned for it).  I
think of Thom and Marshack.  Thom's analysis of megalithic monuments is
probably not terribly significant for us, but there is a recent spate of
interest in language origins and understanding consciousness which either
accepts Marshack's conclusions about the emergence of language and
symbolism or even directly acknowledges it.  Yet archaeologists (to
Marshack's regret) have not given them the credit that others seem to.  I
suspect this is partly because the archaeologists know the data (some of
it) but not the borrowed theory, the non-archaeologists recognise the
borrowed theory, but do not know the limitations of the data.  What this
seems to do is to create a heartwarming sense of expanding the discipline
area for those outside the area where the primary factual data are
generated and a loss of sense of it in the data area.  So depending on
where you stand or how much you know the links are strengthened or

Iain Davidson
Archaeology and Palaeoanthropology
University of New England
Armidale NSW 2351
Tel (067) 732 441
Fax      (International) +61 67 73 25 26
                (Domestic)       067 73 25 26

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