Some thoughts on "interdisciplinary" uses of history.

1. History is not just a source of raw data. Even simple historical sources require interpretation. They often need quite careful contextualization. Ducking this work to get to "data" as fast as possible often yields junk.
2. Historiography is not just a source of pat narratives. It is highly dependent on the work of interpretation noted above and on changing ideas about how that work is best done. It changes over time. Think of it as the product of ongoing research, because that is what it is.
3. The fact that historians' criticisms of a piece of interdisciplinary work are "predictable" does not reflect badly on historians. It reflects badly on people who predicted it yet did nothing to address it. If I see a wall and walk straight into it, that's not the wall's fault.
4. The fact that a given historical claim "is not exactly new" does not mean that it is unimpeachable. That a historian said something in 1893 or 1939 or 1975 does not mean that historians must or will treat it as a valid or an interesting thesis in 2020. See point 2.
5. Interdisciplinary work is not an end in itself. Its promise is that it can yield insights that are otherwise unattainable. It cannot realize this promise if it fails to grasp or take seriously even what is already clear to those working within disciplines. It then has no use.
6. Insisting that we applaud interdisciplinary work simply because it is interdisciplinary, and that we withhold criticism of it simply because criticism is predictable, is a good way to ensure the production of predictably mediocre interdisciplinary work that nobody can trust.
7. The foregoing may read as hostile to interdisciplinarity as such. It shouldn't. I think the bar for good interdisciplinary work is high precisely because the work is interdisciplinary: it has to speak intelligibly and say something useful to multiple sets of researchers.
8. Because history touches in some way on the subject matter of virtually every other discipline, and because it is for this reason highly eclectic in its theoretical and methodological borrowings, I also think interdisciplinary work should be of special interest to historians.
9. I suspect the fact that "everything has a history", and the circumstance that many disciplines produce specialists who act as historians of their discipline (economists write histories of economics, e.g.), suggests to some that history requires no special expertise. Not so.
10. Finally, the claim that historians are systematically more critical of interdisciplinary work than they are of one another is dubious -- not least because of the wide range of conflicting theoretical and methodological approaches that all fall under the rubric of history.
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