Skip to Main Content

June 2007, Passage 4, Setup


Passage four, this is the social science passage. It begins in the first paragraph with a goal. That is, historians are trying to study the changing face of the Irish landscape. And the method they normally use to accomplish that goal, which is relying primarily on evidence from historical documents. That's the first half of the paragraph.

The second half of the paragraph tells us that there are some problems with the normal method, two problems in particular. First, that the documents from the period before the 17th century are pretty rare. And the ones from the 16th and onward focus selectively on only a couple of things, only on commercial and military issues. The second paragraph tells us that there is a new method for studying the Irish landscape.

That new method is examining pollen grains, fossilized pollen grains, and they provide a fair amount of information on how that's done. The specific details they are not particularly important. If they ask you about them, you'll just look them up when you get there. The third paragraph gives us an example of somebody using the method from the second paragraph to investigate whether people in County Down grew cereal grains.

Apparently, the old view was that it wasn't until the moldboard plough came into use in the seventh century. But when you look at the fossilized pollen grains, you find that actually they were doing it as early as the year 400. Paragraph four gives us another example of people using the pollen grains to study the landscape.

In this case, they're looking at flax and whether it was grown before the 18th century. People originally thought that it was, the pollen grains show that it wasn't. So notice that the two examples that we have here in paragraphs three and four are kind of opposites to each other. In paragraph three, there was something people thought didn't happen.

And then the pollen grains show that it did. In paragraph four, there's something that they thought did happen and then the pollen grains showed that it didn't. We need the last paragraph, you're given something new, essentially some limitations to the method. Certain cultivated plants are too similar to their wild versions.

In particular, madder is used as an example. So if you're studying a plant that's so similar to its wild version, you won't be able to use this technique. Notice the author doesn't say that this limitation completely ruins the viability of using the technique. It's just that this is a limitation that you have to keep in mind.

So ultimately, if we ask what was the author's overall goal here? The author was introducing to us a new method of solving an old problem. The old problem is trying to find enough sources to study the Irish landscape when the documents aren't so great. The new method is pollen grains, which have already worked out okay, though there are some limitations.

You won't be able to use it for everything.

Read full transcript