Introduction: An Ethnohistory of Listening

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Braun, Sebastian
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World Languages and Cultures
The Department of World Languages and Cultures seeks to provide an understanding of other cultures through their languages, providing both linguistic proficiency and cultural literacy. Majors in French, German, and Spanish are offered, and other coursework is offered in Arabic, Chinese, Classical Greek, Latin, Portuguese, and Russian
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Leg dein Ohr auf die Schiene der Geschichte. (Put your ear to the rail of history.) Freudeskreis 1996

I hear them all, I hear them all, I hear them all. Old Crow Medicine Show 2006

Good ethnohistory, for lack of a different metaphor, might look somewhat like a reservation dog: the product of indefinite sources and directions, compromises and fights, a bricolage at its best; and for all that, interesting and beatiful, ready to be a loyal companion but independent enough to assert its survival, and fostering many children that lal look different, yet again. Here might be the time, then, to remember one of the best stories-that-might-have-occurred (Pirsig 1992:465):

He remember it had been spring then, which is a wonderful time in Montana, and the breeze blowing down from the pine trees carried a fresh smell of melting snow and thawing earth, and they were all walking down the road, four abreast, when one of those raggedy non-descript dogs that call Indian reservations home came onto the road and walked pleasantly in front of them. They followed the dog silently for a while. Then LaVerne asked John, "What kind of dog is that?" John thought about it and said, "that's a good dog".

The cultural misunderstanding evident above makes a point that rests at the heart of ethnohistory and any attempt to investigate cross-cultural meaning: common sense ceases to be common at cultural boundaries. This means that anthropology needs history to understand the events of the past that inform the present. History, however, needs anthropology to understand the meanings of events.


This introduction is published as 2013 “Introduction: An Ethnohistory of Listening” in: Transforming Ethnohistories: Narrative, Meaning, and Community, edited by Sebastian Felix Braun. pp. 3-22. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. Posted with permission.

Tue Jan 01 00:00:00 UTC 2013