Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: The Masonic Myth

Jay Kinney, The Masonic Myth: Unlocking the Truth About the Symbols, the Secret Rites, and the History of Freemasonry.

Even before I was a trained (if not practicing) historian, I was a conspiracy theory skeptic. Particularly about those concerning secret societies ruling the world. Since when do men vain enough to want to rule the world also want to keep it quiet? To me, that seems to require a unique bit of schizophrenic passive narcissism. And, if we are to believe the conspiracy theorists, this has gone on for generations.

Kinney's book, The Masonic Myth, helps to solidify my skepticism concerning one group that again finds itself thrust into the spotlight with the release of Dan Brown's latest book. Brown is but the latest to "expose" the supposed world-ruling intentions of the Masons (witness the Hysterical Channel's recent "special"). Kinney takes the novel approach of explaining, with sources, the mysteries of Masonry and the problems it faces. Of course, true conspiracy theorists would probably find the fact that Kinney is himself a Mason disqualifying. That would be too bad.

What Kinney does is show that Masonry gathered certain cultural symbols and motifs that were common to other organizations. Further, they shrouded their organization in secrecy and confused their own origins, both of which played into theories of conspiracy. Further, Kinney shows that what most current Masons care most about is the senior citizen's special and their AARP membership. Like most other men's organizations--the Lions, Elks, Oddfellows--the Masons are literally dying off. Will the New World order survive?

Whether it does or not, Kinney has done a great service to those interested in a well-researched and factual account of the origin and current state of Freemasonry.

Friday, September 18, 2009

What is Historiography Again?

Yikes, been a while! Anyway, I've written plenty about historiography and historical theory/methodology, but Heather Cox Richardson offers a good way to help people understand just what the heck "historiography" is:
It may be easier to understand the concept of historiography if you put the idea of it into a different context. Think of movie Westerns. Almost invariably, they deal with the Plains West from about 1860 to about 1900. But their interpretations of the events of those years are strikingly different. It’s impossible, for example, to image someone making Brokeback Mountain in 1950, or Stagecoach in the 1980s. Just as those movies tell us a great deal about both the eras in which they were made and the filmmaking theories under which they were filmed, so too can historiography tell us much that we need to know about society.
That works for me.