According to Suny, the cultural history approach is concerned with the present and past humans’ cultural meaning. It is mainly based on analyzing texts, images, behavior, and artifacts to derive the norms and values through asking how and why something happened (Suny, 2002). Ethnohistory is an anthropological field that studies humans through incorporating cultural anthropology, history, ecology, archaeology, oral traditions, and linguistics (Riehm, 2019). The inclusion of anthropological approaches helps historians understand the culture better by digging deep into the symbolic meaning and interpreting what they discover. Culture is embedded in a symbol that has a meaning, and therefore, to understand the culture, the symbol’s meaning should be interpreted. Historians use the ethnographic method to uncover how and why humans practice particular cultures. This approach would help better understand topics such as politics, religion, economics, and social developments.
One of the cultural history approach challenges is trying to isolate individual cultural units and define them. Cultural historians had difficulties establishing each particular unit’s traits, and sometimes the units’ symbols and interpretation were the same. Secondly, methodological responses vary. Different methods yield different responses, and when interpreting the data, it becomes a problem to define cultural facts.
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Inga Clendinnen used cultural history approach to examine Mayan women by applying the concept of how and why. She reconstructed the boundaries given to male activities and studied how males’ activities were drawn, and through that, she could identify women’s activities. Additionally, she used the recordings of routines of native life that the Spanish missionaries had taken (Clendinnen, 1982). From that, she tracked the roles, rituals, paths, and pitfalls to establish what the women experienced. The cultural approach explained more of what the Mayan women made from their experiences and what was done to them. Other approaches have only demonstrated how they were treated but have missed establishing what followed after those experiences.
The social history approach is about studying humans’ lived experiences by analyzing individual quantitative data such as census, deaths, taxes, and marriages. This approach is different from the cultural approach in that it does not explain how and why a particular phenomenon happens; instead, it interprets through statistics. Furthermore, it is more concerned about society’s history, while the cultural approach is concerned about the history of arts and human intelligence. The social history approach has shown how the wealthy people lived by explaining how Pittock’s marriage with Georgiana was like, how the family lived, and how their deaths came to be, among others (Holland, 2019). Through such history, visitors can grasp how the rich in those days lived their lives.
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Clendinnen, I. “Yucatec Maya Women and the Spanish Conquest: Role and Ritual in Historical Reconstruction.” Journal of Social History 15, no. 3 (1982), 427-442. doi:10.1353/jsh/15.3.427.
Holland, Danni. “Pittock Mansion: 10 Facts of the Famed Haunted House Portland.” Velvet Ropes Real Estate. Last modified November 24, 2019. https://www.velvetropes.com/backstage/pittock-mansion.
Riehm, Grace E., Lydia Brambila, Brittany A. Brown, Lauren C. McDougal, Danielle N. Effre, Robbie Ethridge, Morgan Komlo, et al. “What Is Ethnohistory?: A Sixty-Year Retrospective.” Ethnohistory 66, no. 1 (2019), 145-162. doi:10.1215/00141801-7217401.
Suny, Ronald G. “Back and beyond: Reversing the Cultural Turn?” The American Historical Review 107, no. 5 (2002), 1476-1499. doi:10.1086/532855.