I have been thinking about the intersection of history, storytelling, and science, ever since my visit to the Sasquatch Outpost in Bailey, Colorado, a small but enthusiastically curated museum dedicated to information about Colorado sightings of Bigfoot. I could not help but compare it to two other recent visits here, one to the Dinosaur Journey Museum in Fruita, Colorado and the US Olympic & Paralympic Archives in Colorado Springs.
What I grasped is that history, science, and storytelling all use parts that are native to each other. Scientists start with evidence, but must construct a narrative that uses deductive reasoning to explain results. This happens whether they are aiming particle beams at cuprite samples or reconstructing fossil skeletons from a riverbed. They need to tell a clear story. Historians also need to fill in the details on the timeline, starting with whatever sources (evidence) exist from the time period. Deductive reasoning and inferences play a part.
Storytelling, however, is an entirely different kettle of fish. If it has a little deductive reasoning–a little science behind it–the story might might have more power. Think about the explanation of constellations, for example. Humans are also naturally adept at “What If…? Tales don’t need evidence, although it helps if the story resembles the familiar. Imagination, however, should not let us replace evidence with anecdote. There are different kinds of evidence. Brief examples from my visits should help clarify the roles played. I can’t quite figure out the Venn diagram, but perhaps the following might help:
I recently came across a headline that gave me the frowns. It was a week or so ago, but in the midst of my “why don’t people get their history correct” rant, Part One. So consider this Part Two. The caption was:
Why so much Obama-era pop culture feels so cringe now: How Hamilton, Parks and Recreation, and Harry Potter lost cultural cachet.
Constance Grady, Vox.com
Much of this is a calculated irritant. The headline was recommended by a browser algorithm that is the technological equivalent of supermarket tabloid stands. It’s designed to be a wet fish slap. Obama somehow seems to share in the blame. At least in the supermarket, you can also contemplate the Snickers bars. On the Internet, it’s just you and this headline and the other stories cum ads about the “Last Bed/Pizza-Kit/Migraine Remedy You’ll Every Buy.”
It’s clickbait. It’s written by people whose profession is to tell you what to think and how to live. Those folks in the ancient days were the rule-making priests, then the culture-stamping bosses; now they are self-appointed influencers. (I was going to add barely-known bloggers, but then I’m a barely-known blogger, so never mind).
We all shouldn’t care so much. And yet…so many questions spring to mind.
Who decided Hamilton, Harry Potter, and Parks and Rec are completely out of favor? Who decided these were Popular in the first place? How is Harry Potter even “Obama-era,” when all of the book were published before Obama? I dispute the premise, and I dispute the facts. And it’s worth spending a few minutes on this because we should not stir together opinions about politics, art, and facts as if they are interchangeable. When we do that, it becomes much easier to dismiss videos from January 6th as “that’s your opinion.”