Friday, May 8, 2020

Which story? Which angle?

A friend recently said that getting a PhD was a lesson in ignorance.  Obtaining a doctorate can emphasize how little one knows, how much there is to know, and how the best knowledge can change with further research, thought and criticism.  And there is the matter of changes in one's own interests and philosophy.  I liked this statement from "The Big Change" by Frederick Allen Lewis (1952).

United States during the first half of the twentieth century

Anybody who chooses such a subject has an immense canvas before him, on which any number of pictures may be painted. He may concentrate, after the manner of the old-fashioned history textbooks, upon American politics from McKinley to Truman. He may illuminate the contrast between the American position in foreign affairs in 1900 and our uncomfortably massive role half a century later. He may focus on American art, music, literature, or culture, or all of them together; or on the almost incredible advance in medicine and public health; or on the progress of science and technology. He may concentrate upon the waning of puritanism, the loosening of family ties, the reduced authority of parents, the increasing divorce rate, the economic and social and political emancipation of women. He may deal primarily with the changes in American thought about the nature of man and of God, the long decline in the prestige of organized religion, the mood of apprehension in which wars and rumors of wars have caused us to live, and the anxious search for spiritual security in a world full of desperate uncertainties. Or else he may fix his chief attention upon the changes which have taken place in the character and quality of American life by reason of what might be called the democratization of our economic system, or the adjustment of capitalism to democratic ends; the way in which an incredible expansion of industrial and business activity, combined with a varied series of political, social and economic forces, has altered the American standard of living and with it the average American's way of thinking and his status as a citizen.

Allen, Frederick Lewis. The Big Change . eStar Books. Kindle Edition.

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