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  • Cited by 7
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: June 2012

2 - Past and present of cross-cultural psychology


Why old history?

Apart from the fact that it is interesting, history in my opinion also has some lessons for us. Before the modern age of increasing specialisation, people from a rich variety of backgrounds were concerned with what we now call problems of culture. The list includes philosophers, travellers and explorers, missionaries, historians, mathematicians and so on. When posing questions and seeking for answers they learned from each other, which in a broad and rather ill-defined sphere like that of culture is still very important. Admittedly their views tended to be speculative, but they should not be dismissed on that account. They were arrived at by inferences from the imperfect information at their disposal, a problem that has by no means disappeared.

When empirical methods came to be developed, much earlier than is generally realised, there remained the issue of bridging the gap between the relatively limited facts ascertained and their wider ramifications. For instance, during the nineteenth century many scholars entered a blind alley when they attributed human differences to race, and were convinced that they had empirically demonstrated this by means of craniology. Can we be certain that some of our own efforts will not in future come to be regarded in a similarly disparaging manner? So history teaches us humility, as well as providing a wider perspective enabling us to see our own contributions in the context of a larger canvas.

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