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The non-results of the "historicity" survey

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  • Ariel L. Szczupak
    There were not enough responses for anything that could be called results , even in a non-statistical meaning. I ll use the original message as template to
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 2, 2006
      There were not enough responses for anything that could be called
      "results", even in a non-statistical meaning. I'll use the original
      message as template to comment on the questions, what the responses
      indicated, if I found something relevant, etc. Many thanks both to
      those who replied, and to those who endured :)


      >And I'll limit the scope to history and related "historical"
      >disciplines, because the usage norms may be different in other
      >disciplines (e.g. the philosophy of science).

      Another clarification - history and the philosophy of science are not
      the only contexts in which "historicity" is used in scientific
      publications, I just used PoS as an example. The PoS version of the
      meaning is present in many disciplines, and you find things like
      "Historicity in Architecture and Design".

      [Recap - in PoS "historic" & "historicity" are commonly used to mean
      "a process that has the characteristics of human history", rather
      than "events that really happened"]

      And some cases baffle me:

      Veuille M, Baudry E, Cobb M, Derome N & Gravot E. 2004. Historicity
      and the population genetics of D. melanogaster and D. simulans.
      Genetica, 120 (1-3): 61-70.

      Apparently the scientific community dealing with fruit fly genetics
      had no problem with "historicity", as this paper has an impressive
      citation index. I haven't been able to get my hands on this paper, so
      I can't tell you in what sense they use the word (except that it's in
      the context of historical genetics).

      The problem with this example is that using the historians' version
      of the meaning doesn't make sense - but neither does the PoS version,
      since in PoS a genetic process is different from an historical
      process (or chaotic process, synchronic process, etc). Until I get a
      chance to read the paper I can't tell if it's "creative writing" or
      if there's a 3rd distinct semantical range of "historicity" in
      scientific publications.

      [There are also some uses of the word in psychiatric publications
      which seem a little strange at first glance, but I haven't looked into it yet]


      >Q1: Is "historicity" a scientific term?

      None of the responses indicated that it's a scientific term in the
      history-related sciences (though some suggested definitions to make
      it one). Someone suggested that it's a "scholarly term", as something
      being used with a specific meaning in some scientific context, a
      usage convention, but without a being a defined term.

      I did find "historicity" in an old copy of "Fowler's Modern English
      Usage" (2nd ed with corrections, 1983). Usage in a specific
      scientific context can be different from the usage in plain English,
      and of course "how it should be used" and "how it is used in
      practice" are different things, but the entry is interesting and worth quoting:

      "The earliest OED example of this word is dated 1880; but, being
      effective in imparting a learned air to statements intended to
      impress the unlearned, it has had a rapid success, and is now common.
      It has, however, a real use as a single word for the phrase
      "historical existence", i.e. the having really existed or taken place
      in history as opposed to mere legend or literature. To this sense, in
      which it makes for brevity, it should be confined. "The historicity
      of St. Paul" should mean the fact that, or the question wether, St..
      Paul was a real person. The following quotation shows the word in a
      quite different sense, in which it would not have been worth
      inventing - why not "accuracy"? If it is given two or more senses
      liable to be confused it loses the only merit it ever had - that of
      expressing a definite compound notion unmistakably in a single word:
      "He is compelled to speak chiefly of what he considers to be
      exceptions to St. Paul's strict historicity and fairness; and he
      tells us that he is far from intending to imply that the Apostle is
      usually un-historical or unfair".


      >Q2: Is the meaning of "historicity" a pure syntactic derivation from

      There were no replies that indicated that "historicity" has some
      meaning that is not derived from "historic". [The difference between
      the history-sciences and PoS "historicities" is already there for
      "historic", and is carried into the x-ITY derivation]


      >Q3: Does "historicity" imply:
      >a. "The quality of being a history" [events in time]
      >b. "The quality of being historically true" [true vs. false]
      >c. "The quality [and measure] of containing historical facts"
      >[something established]
      >d. "The quality [and measure] of containing historical evidence"
      >[something to be interpreted and evaluated]
      >e. "The quality [and measure] of being historically correct"
      >f. "The quality [and measure] of being historically accurate"
      >g. "The quality [and measure] of being historically credible"
      >h. "The quality [and measure] of ..." [fill in ...]

      When I compiled the list of options I used the ANE-1 list as a
      "database" and looked for various ways in which "historicity" was used.

      Option "a" is the basic implication, common to the history-sciences and PoS.

      I missed one option between "b" and "c" and someone added it -
      "historical veracity" as "the quality and measure of being historically true".

      Option "d" to "g" address implications of subjectivity, of the
      involvement of the historian in determining the "historicity".
      Options "e" to "f", and "historical veracity", are practically
      identical in the information they impart concerning whatever
      "historicity" is applied to, but they express subtle differences on
      the making of the "historicity" statement/claim (just like
      characterizing it as a statement or a claim does).

      The responses were not enough in number, and most respondents chose
      only one option, so determining subtleties was impossible. The
      responses seem to indicate that an implication of "historical
      veracity" is the favored choice (but that's my interpretation, since
      it wasn't listed as an explicit option).


      >Q4: Is the "historicity" used in respect to an entire, complete
      >historical source inherited automatically by sub-parts of that
      >source, or can the "historicity" of sub-parts of the source be
      >discussed independently of what is said about the entire source?

      First, my bad in using "source" :( Of course "historicity" can be
      applied to persons, events, etc. The cause of my mental glitch is
      that in the back of my mind there is the equation that, e.g., "the
      historicity of Julius Caesar" stands for "the historicity of what the
      various historical sources tell us about Julius Caesar". The
      knowledge of Julius Caesar, or any other object of historical
      research, cannot be gained by direct experience or observation. And I
      don't know a word that will mean "the collection of historical
      sources that tell us about ...".

      The issue I was trying to clarify is the relation between the parts
      and the whole. The very few responses that addressed this point
      indicate, as expected, that the "historicity" of the whole is not
      automatically inherited by the parts. E.g. the historicity of
      Caesar's caesarean birth or manner of death is not determined
      automatically by "the historicity of Julius Caesar".

      >and ...
      >Q4.a: If the "historicity" of sub-parts of the source can be
      >discussed independently, does that apply to all possible sub-parts
      >or are there constraints or limits involved in determining for which
      >sub-parts "historicity" can be used?

      I wanted to phrase this so that the question will not suggest
      answers. I probably succeeded in making it incomprehensible as I got
      no indication from the responses :(

      Consider Sinuhe. We have a collection of documents telling the Sinuhe
      story. We have a main story and a sub-story. We have various details
      concerning Egypt and the Levant. We have episodes and details within
      these episodes. We have things told about the physical world, about
      the social and political world, and about Sinuhe's own personal
      world. Etc, etc.

      Everything in the Sinuhe story is potentially a historical question.
      What I was trying to find out is if "historicity" can be applied to
      all possible questions arising from the Sinuhe story, or if there are
      certain questions for which "historicity" won't be applied. Are some
      details too minute for "historicity" (e.g. "the historicity of the
      weapons used in the duel with the big guy" or "the historicity of the
      messengers meeting the eldest son at night"). Are there certain types
      of questions for which "historicity" won't be used (e.g. "the
      historicity of Sinuhe's longing for Egypt" or "the historicity of
      Sinuhe's description of life in the Levant").

      Since "historicity" doesn't seem to be a well defined term, the
      question addresses usage conventions - are there such conventions or
      is it up to an author's personal style.

      My impression about the usage of historicity in publications is that
      it's more a matter of personal style than of conventions. If there
      is, at all, some weak link between using the word and what's it
      applied to, it seems to me that it's in implying that the object of
      "historicity" is historically interesting. I.e. "the historicity of
      the messengers meeting the son at night" sounds funny because the
      time of day of that meeting is not historically interesting, but "the
      historicity of Brutus being the last to stab Caesar" is less funny.
      However my experience with scientific publications that have
      "historicity" in them is rather limited, so that's no indication.

      Thanks again for participating, be it actively or passively :)


      [100% bona fide dilettante ... delecto ergo sum!]

      Ariel L. Szczupak
      AMIS-JLM (Ricercar Ltd.)
      POB 4707, Jerusalem, Israel 91401
      Phone: +972-2-5619660 Fax: +972-2-5634203
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