March 23, 2005

The Garden of Forking Paths Weighs Like a Nightmare on the Minds of the Living (This Week at the Complex Systems Colloquium)

Attention conservation notice: This is an attempt to increase the attendance at the complex systems colloquia by blogging about them in advance. Of minimal relevance if you're not in Ann Arbor or don't care about complex systems, historiography, social theory, Africa, imperialism, the formation of the modern world, agency or causality.

For this week's colloquium, we are very happy to have Prof. Timothy Burke from Easily Distracted Swarthmore College, who will be telling us about some shiny things that have caught his eye recently

"Colonialism, Counterfactuals, Causality: Emergence and Complexity as Metaphor and Tool in Historical Analysis"
After spending three years working with an interdisciplinary faculty seminar on complexity and emergent systems, I am thoroughly convinced of the value and importance of those topics for historians as well as other scholars. I am also thoroughly confused about how to actually make practical use of my novice's understanding of this subject matter. In this paper, I will review three speculative attempts to apply complex systems and emergence to my own work and interests, ranging from a very specific attempt to rethink the early shaping of British colonial governance in southern Africa to very general attempts to rethink the nature of causality in human history.
While I'm convinced that emergence is at the least provides a powerful explanatory metaphor that usefully unsettles some conventional wisdom in historical scholarship, I'm at more of a loss about how--or whether--to move beyond that in historical research to more concrete empirical or methodological uses of topics like emergence, complex systems, or networks. In particular, I will describe a justifiably unsuccessful proposal for a "counterfactual simulator" that my colleague Bruce Maxwell and I put together last year, a proposal that I think ran aground in part because of its impracticality, possibly even its impossibility.

4 pm, Thursday, March 24, in room 335 West Hall, Central Campus

Manual trackback: Crumb Trail.

Complexity; The Great Transformation; Writing for Antiquity

Posted at March 23, 2005 18:00 | permanent link

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