January 18, 2024

‘Saving history from the historians’: Historical knowledge production and the claims of political science- Dina Khoury in dialogue with CRITIQUE-MERG | April 3 2024

Lecture abstract:

In his presidential address to a combined meeting of the American Historical Association and the American Political Science Association in 1909, James Bryce, then president of the AHA, reflected on the relationship between both. History provided the data for political scientists who then detected general patterns in the political organization of society. The positivism of the statement, that “data” provided by historians are free of interpretation or theoretical underpinnings, continues to underpin the work of some traditional political scientists of the Middle East. A naïve reading of the historical record combined with a selective use of that record is often deployed to explain the origin of the number of “lacks” such as democratic forms of rule, secularization, and indigenous capitalist development. Despite the persistence of such scholarship there have been a significant number of critical engagements by political scientists of the Middle East with the discipline of history in the past three decades. The scholarship of political theorists like Lisa Wedeen and Timothy Mitchell has left a profound imprint outside their field, but it is not clear how much impact it has had on traditional political science as a discipline. Other more “orthodox” political scientists such as Ian Lustick and Bob Vitalis have engaged more systematically with the  “history as data” problematic. My presentation will draw on a select number of publications by political scientists to raise a few questions about how recent historical and political science scholarship have dealt with this problematic.

Dina Khoury is Professor Emerita of History and International Affairs at George Washington University’s Elliot School of International Affairs.

Discussant: Dr. Ewan Stein, senior lecturer in International Relations at PIR.

Date/ time: Wednesday April 3 2024; 13:00-14:30

Location: Screening Room, 50 George Square.