Diskussion about scientific degrees and/or the qualification of Ewart Oakeshott
I thought it would be better to open up a new thread, because this could develop into a lengthy discussion, encompassing much more then the original question.
For all those not in the know, the whole thing started with me generally questioning (a bit tongue-in-cheek) the huge ammount of "amateur" science/scientists in HEMA/ARMA/whatever. And especially the late Mr. Oakeshott, who falls into this category. To read up on the original posts, please see here:
My original post was quite short and maybe should have carried a "higly inflammable" sign. I readily admit my sins. User u1ysses answered with asking me to go kill myself, which I did not oblige to. Thats about when things got serious. I posted (shortened version taking away unnecessary flaming and such):
To which this was the answer (did not shorten or change the text because its not mine):
Originally Posted by kwan_dao
Originally Posted by u1ysses
So lets pick up from here.
I did not ask for a specific degree. Actually I would be quite generous in accepting about any education which contains an introduction into scientific methods.
Originally Posted by u1ysses
Thats acutally the problem I see. Mr. Oakeshott had a degree in arts. Thats the one single field I would be sceptical with.
If the study at a school of arts in England is anything like here in Austria, then it differs vastly from studying any kind of science. Even more so because you do not even have to pass the same exams (Matura/Abitur) which hereabouts are a prerequisite to studying at a "normal" university.
The requirements to study art are quite simple (and logical for that field): You present a map of your works for examination. If those works show talent, you are in (more or less).
Nope, I do not think so. What we have here is someone with most likely not a single hour of training in scientific methods. At least he does not have any certification saying otherwise.
Originally Posted by u1ysses
Its a bit hard to tell exactly (because its spread over the whole course), but I would roughly estimate the time someone studying for a masters degree hereabouts spends learning the basics of scientific research at around one year (two semesters).
I do not believe this is something a person can just pick up on the sides.
Sorry, but the history of science is full of revolutionaries. Most of them came from the inside. There never was a need to stay an outsider to bring up new perspectives. Sometimes it might have been hard for new schools of thought/theories to get accepted. But not participating in the discussion on eye level can only hurt what one has to say.
Originally Posted by u1ysses
I have made the experience, that whenever someone made an explicit point of his need to stay an outsider, that was an attempt to avoid discussion and just claim unproven superior knowledge.
A good analogy would be the too-deadly type of chun. They can not participate in competiotion, because of its limits. Training with people not from their style (and getting competition-proven certification that way) is also out of question, because it would taint their elite skills. They have the same "outsider" perspective. And suck on epic levels if they acutally get into a fight.
Last edited by kwan_dao; 2/28/2010 7:33am at .
90% of all scientific research I am bored-to-death with happily strifes to refute the claims of others. Prooving studies of other researchers to be wrong is the very life essence of all scientists. So if the experimental studies of John Coles were faulty, why not do the "normal" thing, repeat them, show up his fallacies and tear him to shreds? Where is the problem? Is his shadow so threatening it scares people out of the system?
Originally Posted by u1ysses
As to those "gentlemanly victorian ideas" thats an English/Anglo-American problem. You can happily keep it for yourself. We have enough to chew on german romanticism.
Last edited by kwan_dao; 2/28/2010 7:59am at .
I doubt this will be a long discussion. But I don't expect to be the last word in this thread; I have neither the academic credentials to bury this, nor the library to cite the full range of credentialed authorities who have relied upon Mr. Oakeshott's work. I will provide two points as shots across the bow.
I recently finished reading Dr. Hilda Ellis Davidson's book The Sword in Anglo-Saxon England, in which she not only cites Ewart Oakeshott's work numerous times, but engaged him as the illustrator. She acknowledges his assistance in her Preface:
The sword both catches men's imaginations and teases their curiosity, and in my meetings with Ewart Oakeshott, the illustrator of this book, who collects medieval swords and handles them with love and knowledge
, and with John Anstee, who arrived on day with a pattern-welded sword of his own making strapped on under his coat, have taught me more than many books could do
Dr. Davidson took firsts in English and Archaeology at Newnham College, Cambridge, and later received her Ph.D. after three years of research into the pagan beliefs of Scandinavia. She was Assistant Lecturer in English at the Royal Holloway College, and later a part-time lecturer in English at Brikbeck College. She was a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities and a president of the Council of the Folklore Society. She published numerous books on various aspects of life in the early middle ages. She was also the vice-president of Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge. I'd say she has impressive academic credentials, and she saw value in Mr. Oakeshott's work.
I am also in possession of Mr. Oakeshott's own book, The Sword in the Age of Chivalry. The Preface to the 1994 edition actually addresses your criticism of his lack of academic credentials in his chosen field.
He then details some of the adventures his passion for medieval swords led him into before returning to his defense of your criticism:
I am not, nor ever have been an "expert", and I will not write merely for the benefit of experts. The words "amateur" and "dilettante" have become pejorative. An amateur is held to be a person of no consequence who interferes with matters which he does not understand, while a dillettante is considered to be a human butterfly who flirts with frivolous insouciance from one enthusiasm to another. But to be referred to as a "renaissance man" is considered (and rightly so) to be a great compliment, and yet all three of these expressions mean (or used to mean) the same thing. The amateur, the lover of his subject, is one who does not follow only the particular and narrow discipline in which he works -- that is the function of the expert -- but encourages his attention to stretch away into the study of any or every thing even remotely connected with it.
Now, you may certainly argue in opposition to Mr. Oakeshott's defense, but he is, of course, dead and unable to respond with counterpoint.
So: I am indeed an amateur, whose aim is to arouse the interest of any person who cares to read what I write, to be helpful to the student of history or culture or art, and to increase the pleasure of those who collect these splendid things -- and now, in these days, of all those who so eagerly and skillfully use them in combat.
No doubt there are others proffering "exprtise" in the HEMA/WMA field without proper credentials who are worthier of your attention and criticism. However, Mr. Oakeshott seems to have been both well-regarded by academics and aware of his own limitations. Perhaps he was too busy encouraging his attention to his main interest to pursue the coursework necessary for an advanced degree, and felt no serious impediment due to a lack of credentials.
I would also note that I generally would agree with you that academic credentials generally signal a level of expertise in a field worth listening to, but they are by no means dispositive. I would not seek to hire only a Ph.D. in Fluid Engineering to handle my home plumbing, nor would I hesitate to install a valve whose patent holder was merely a plumber who served a practical apprenticeship.
Certainly, there will be critics of Oakeshott's work who will progress our understanding of this unusual field. He was by no means the final word. but from what I can glean from his writings, he would welcome this progress and actually feel vindicated by it.
Last edited by Styygens; 2/28/2010 9:36pm at .
Ah, on second reading, I see that your objection is to the fact that Mr. Oakeshott does not have a degree with a scientific underpinning.
I'm not sure why that would be a problem for his work, as the majority of it -- particularly his famous typology of swords -- is more in the realm of the liberal arts, art history, or straight history.
Where he delves into more technical fields, metal smithy for instance, he relies on others' expertise and cites sources. If there are errors in his work, I'm sure he'd welcome the correction by a more authoritative source.
Mr. Oakeshott came a bit "between the wheels" here. He just had the "luck" to come up as an example for the many "amateur" researchers in the HEMA/ARMA/whatever field. I would actually prefer to lift this discussion onto a broader level, away from the personal.
As a german native speaker I of course tend to prefer technical/historical/scientific publications in my own language. A bit of a different world. German publishers tend to build up on the work of other germans (citing mainland european sources at best, english or anglo-american authors playing hardly any role).
I will readily admit that in the literature/source material I have consumed on what could be considered the "WMA" topic, Mr. Oakeshott hardly ever played a role. In the course of this discussion I went through the source listings of many a book in my library and hardly found any mention of his name.
So quite logical (as I do not know much about his work) I have no beef with him. I do not question his personal integrity or intelligence.
What I originally did question is the tendency of English/Anglo-American HEMA/ARMA/whatever practitioners to treat amateur sources like scientific evidence. Even if (like in this very instance) the source itself explicitly discards that claim. Not to mention all those who are not as "straight" in their self-description as the late Mr. Oakeshott.
Kwan Dao, I think you need to be a little more specific with your criticism then. Of course there is a large portion of amateur research here, since few academics have an interest in actually trying to use and fully understand the actual "tools of war". (I have personally tried to reach out to certain Universities and societies with little success). However, there have been quite a few instances where, through amateur research, it has become quite clear that earlier academic "truths" have been proven quite wrong.
Also, Hema DOES have it's share of dedicated academics, like I mentioned earlier:
ARMA: Dr. Sydney Anglo, Dr. Lee Jones, Dr. David Nicolle and Dr. Noel Fallows. AEMMA: Dr. Jeffrey Forgeng, Dr. Hans-Peter Hils, Dr. C.E. Magnus Lindgren, Dr. Robert Mason, Dr. Steven Muhlberger and Dr. Julian Siggers.
There are also a few more large organisations like HEMA Coalition, HEMAC, The Fecht-Kunst Society, The British Federation for Historical Swordplay and WMAC who do excellent academic and practical research, not to mention the roughly 280 clubs worldwide.
Amateur research can certainly be hard to validate, but I would say that the same goes for much of academic research. There is so depressingly large amounts of politics, petty intrigues and personal agendas involved in academic research that I feel quite ambivalent towards putting automatic faith and trust in it.
I myself have spent too many years at University, including studies of methodology for research and have plenty of close relatives involved in various aspects of research in Humaniora, including archaeology to have both great respect for, and a pretty down to earth-view on, the academic world.
Scientific training and methodology only goes so far and has quite little to do with the actual validity of theories, especially in Humaniora where much is open for interpretation and large portions are based on earlier interpretations accepted as "facts".
This is why we still hear/read about how knights wore armour that was so heavy and cumbersome that they could hardly move and carried weapons that were so heavy that they couldn't be used with any finesse or techniques. History books are still being published with this kind of silly info. The same goes for chivalry, sexuality and other romanticized topics that the Church, Hollywood and certain historians have perpetuated almost completely and sometimes even intentionally false interpretations of.
Similarly, we also see a line of academic research in, for instance, pedagogics by researchers who have never been in a class room or have tried teaching. Their research is "valid" and is used as a foundation for other researchers and is also used by certain parties to enforce political agendas. Just as research on the effects of smoking tobacco used to show mostly positive effects. There are plenty examples such as these.
Other aspects of archaeological research is better and there are also large portions of good research that are still held within the walls of universities that haven't reached the public yet. It wouldn't surprise me if we, in a couple of decades, see much of what have been researched by the Hema community lifted to even higher levels, by more academics than those already within the Hema Community. I know there is research being done on European female warriors, judicial duelling and other closely related topics.
This is a slow process, but bit by bit, I believe we are getting a better understanding of the Medieval and Renaissance society in different aspects. In this respect I sincerely believe that the amateur research has been very valuable, since it has challenged the accepted views on certain parts of the historical cultures of Europe.
Last edited by Grimnir69; 3/01/2010 7:33am at .
Here are two "letters" by the then 85 year old Oakeshott, musing on his life and his passion for swords as well as providing an analysis of two specific swords.
In my book he deserves all the respect he is given by collectors, museums, swordsmiths, historians, whether they be academic or amateur and fencers.
Last edited by Grimnir69; 3/01/2010 10:14am at .
If you would like to broaden the scope of the conversation, whom should English speakers reference when referring to different blade types/geometries? As far as I'm aware, Oakeshott was one of a scant few to define swords in an accessible easily referenced way. From my understanding, his typology encompases and post dates the other three of the four typologies available in English. However, his Viking sword classification is somewhat simplified, but it's intended to be a continuation of Petersen's typology (as Oakeshott's begins where the other ends). He does not include Migration Era in his typology, but he does reference it in his books. He also references the other typologies I didn't specifically mention in his books as well (Geibig, Wheeler, Behmer). It is also more detailed than any of the others I've seen.
If there are others out there, please let me know. For that matter, what typologies do you use in Austria?
I think the acceptance of amatuer sources is a result of the fact that there are few credentialed academic sources that take into account those factors relevant to the understanding of the historical European martial arts. I would suggest this metaphor: there are great tailors & clothing manufacturers who are extensively trained & make quality products, but have no direct experience with grappling arts. If you asked them what makes a good gi, or kurtka, they probably wouldn't know & wouldn't care. If you ask your Sambo coach, the chances are he could tell you what you need to look for in terms of cut & material even though he never learned to sow.
Originally Posted by kwan_dao
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