Introductory Remarks: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses at 50
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 3-6
Phenomenology and Anthropology in Foucault’s “Introduction to Binswanger’s Dream and Existence”: A Mirror Image of The Order of Things?
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 7-22
In this article, I examine the relation between phenomenology and anthropology by placing Foucault’s first published piece, "Introduction to Binswanger’s Dream and Existence" in dialectical tension with The Order of Things. I argue that the early work, which so far hasn’t received much critical attention, is of particular interest because, whereas OT is notoriously critical of anthropological confusions in general, and of "Man" as an empirico-transcendental double in particular, IB views "existential anthropology" as a unique opportunity to establish a new and fruitful relation between transcendental forms and empirical contents. This is because IB focuses on a specific object, "Menschsein" (the "being of man"), which is neither the transcendental subject nor an empirical being (a member of the class Homo sapiens). Thus for the young Foucault, existential anthropology occupies a fertile methodological middle ground between transcendental approaches (exemplified in IB by Heideggerian phenomenology) and empirical forms of analysis (exemplified by Freudian psychoanalysis). I first interpret anthropology in the light of phenomenology and defend the view that Menschsein is neither a transcendental structure nor a concrete particular, but as the instantiation of the first in the second. I argue that for anthropology to yield the full theoretical benefits Foucault claims for it, the particular cases of Menschsein examined in existential analysis have to be regarded as exemplary. I then read phenomenology back in the light of anthropology and examine how, for Foucault, the analysis of Menschsein in dreams benefits fundamental ontology by affording us a clearer view of some of the main existentiale than the focus on everyday waking experience in Being and Time. Finally, I turn to the limits and difficulties of this early position and my reading of it, and to their consequences for Foucault’s later view.
Vanishing Point: Les mots et les choses, History, and Diagnosis
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 23-34
A difficult point in The Order of Things lies in the historical situation of the archaeologist himself, especially when he speaks about the present. Is it possible to have an adequate view of the episteme in which you stand? Is not the very concept of episteme that of an unconscious determination of the space of knowledge, so that it would be an illusion to claim to be able to "objectify" one's own epistemological situation? And from what point of view can a part of this situation be considered "backward"? This article tries to show that the idea of the "death of man" can be read on two levels: first, it is possible to reconstruct the argument of an appearance and disappearance of man in the space of knowledge from the seventeenth century to the twentieth century; but then, one has to discuss the way Foucault combined his history of knowledge with a philosophical polemics against some contemporary figures. And we can wonder if Foucault's diagnosis has lost any relevance for the present.
Foucault’s Iconic Afterlife: The Posthumous Reach of Words and Things
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 35-53
The lasting influence of Michel Foucault's work is both instantly recognizable in that his very name can be invoked as a noun or adjective ("Foucauldian") as a critical stance or attitude without further elaboration, and yet his signature concepts have been flattened, stretched, exaggerated, and thinned as they have been applied by his most enthusiastic followers. Although Foucault has entered the canon of philosophers, he also became iconic, most notably with the typographic icon, power/knowledge, a (possibly unwanted) achievement of recognition and compression virtually unknown to other philosophers. In this essay, I consider the Foucault of the philosophical canon, and I trace some of the main routes of the iconic Foucault into acceptance or nonacceptance by the academic disciplines, notably history, political science, and anthropology, and numerous other unexpected venues where variants of Foucault's ideas have found surprising homes. I also contemplate the meaning of the status of "iconicity" as it has been analyzed by sociologists, and the possibility that iconic misreadings of Foucault's concepts have been extraordinarily "good to think with" by his critics.
The Politics of The Order of Things: Foucault, Sartre, and Deleuze
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 54-65
Foucault's histories are typically aimed at what he regarded as intolerable political consequences of knowledge-based disciplines such as psychiatry and medicine. But The Order of Things is hard to fit into this pattern. What are the intolerable political consequences of the metaphysical and epistemological "humanism" the book attacks? To answer this question, I discuss Foucault's attitude toward Sartre and Deleuze, neither mentioned in The Order of Things but both of central importance for understanding its political significance. My conclusion is that the book fails as a political critique of Sartre (and political humanism in general) and instead expresses Foucault's personal ethical preference for Deleuzian limit-experiences.
The Order of Things: An Archeology of What?
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 66-81
Foucault’s Les mots et les choses has been translated as The Order of Things. The title of the book, both in French and in English, would remain enigmatic without the subtitle: An Archaeology of Human Sciences. But which disciplines are the human sciences to be accounted for by the archaeologist? To this question, there seem to be three possible answers. According to Foucault, such sciences as biology, political economy, and linguistics are indeed scientific disciplines that study human beings, but they are not human sciences. On the other hand, psychology and sociology do count as human sciences, although they are not really genuine sciences. As to structural disciplines (Lacanian psychoanalysis, Lévi-Straussian anthropology, structural linguistics), Foucault does not see them as successful human sciences, since he calls them “counter-human sciences." In other words, the situation of human sciences seems to be messy from the point of view of a philosopher defending the possibility of radical reflection against psychologism and more generally anthropologism.
Foucault rejects Merleau-Ponty’s claim to have found a way out of anthropologism through the so-called phenomenological reduction. Then one can read Foucault’s archaeology of human sciences as an attempt to offer an alternative way for radical thinking. His archaeology turns out to be an archaeology of ourselves insofar as it applies to archaeologists themselves whatever knowledge they have gained of their object, the discontinuous “systems of thought” succeeding one another in history.
The success of such an archaeology of ourselves will rest on the interpretation of what Foucault has rightly called the “return of language” at the center of our intellectual concerns.
Unexpected and Vital Controversies: Foucault’s Les mots et les choses in Its Philosophical Moment and in Ours
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 82-92
An explicit controversy stirred by Foucault’s announcement of the "death of man" in Les mots et les choses had a side effect: it hid another kind of controversy between allies and friends, that is between Foucault and contemporaries of the new moment he was opening, among whom were Canguilhem, Deleuze, and Derrida. These internal and unexpected controversies are the very life of the "60s" moment in French philosophy. It so happens that they also all dealt with the question of life, thus leading to the heart of our moment today.
Nature and the Irruptive Violence of History
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 93-111
Historical thinking has long defined itself in part through opposition to the natural, in spite of periodic critical efforts to bridge the gap. Deeper in Western traditions of historical reflection are traces of modes of thought through which the distance between human history and nature writ large tends to collapse. Two thinkers not often placed in dialogue—Michel Foucault and Walter Benjamin—both unearthed aspects of this subterranean current. Foucault’s The Order of Things maps different moments of Benjamin’s trajectory: Renaissance resemblance and the metaphysics of language, classical taxonomy and the baroque “mourning-play,” and modern history and commodity culture in the nineteenth century. Violence appears periodically as the irruptive and disruptive force that conditions the natural-historical and thus an anthropocentric history that derives from it: from post-Edenic Babel to geological cataclysm and corporeal transience to the Marquis de Sade, Karl Marx, capitalism, and total war. Without in any way succumbing to naturalism, that inverse of subject-centered instrumental reasoning, both Foucault and Benjamin considered the import of the natural-historical for the eventual articulation of contemporary historical thinking and in doing so contributed to the regeneration of natural history as a mode of thought.
Monsters and Patients: An Archeology of Medicine, Islam, and Modernity
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 112-130
Foucault’s analysis of the history of evolutionary thought in Les Mots et les choses introduces monsters as incomplete beings that form important steps on the evolutionary ladder toward the terminal species. Monsters represent attempts by nature to achieve the perfection of the terminal species and are, therefore, significant for naturalists to construct the details of the natural continuum. Despite their incompleteness, monsters underwrite the natural continuum and evidence the grounding of this continuum in reality. To a great extent, the continuum of nature, proposed by Foucault, resembles a continuum of civilization through which the history of the world and the history of colonization were often seen. The non-European emerged as the monster that showcased the deeper history of the more-perfect European. In the same way that monsters were written into natural history as intermediary and incomplete beings, losing in the process their uniqueness as independent species, the colonized were written into the (new) World History as objects of colonization, modernization, and development and as the living fossils of a bygone European past. This new history was not only created for European consumption but was also an important part of European-style education in the colony shaping colonial and postcolonial identities and perceptions of self and other.
This article uses Foucauldian monsters to understand the making of historical narratives about the precolonial past in nineteenth-century Egypt, where one of the earliest European-style medical schools in Africa and Asia was built in the early nineteenth century. In this school and surrounding emerging educational system, narratives about science, modernity, and religion produced new histories that came to form colonial subjects. Finally, the article asks about a postcolonial/post-monstrous epistemology, what it might look like and whether and how it can emerge from the postcolonial condition.
Out of Their Depths: “Moral Kinds” and the Interpretation of Evidence in Foucault’s Modern Episteme
History and Theory, Theme Issue 54 (December 2016), 131-147
The Order of Things Order is uniquely relevant to historians because it is about the contradictions of writing history in the present day, and because it makes claims absent from other books often seen as similar, such as Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions. For Order, the present-day modern episteme is characterized by unconscious elements that connect Man through time. These unconscious elements are only vaguely discernible to himself and are deformed in the process of representation, that is by putting experience into words. At the same time, history-writing presumes to pull these unconscious elements out of the depths of human experience, time, and space. These assumptions create contradictions for historians in the present day and warrant particular interpretations of evidence that override alternative plausible interpretations. The inescapable contradictions of writing history in the modern episteme are most apparent in histories of what philosopher Ian Hacking calls “moral kinds,” as shown by an extended analysis of a recent history article on medical experimentation on prisoners. The overarching aim of this essay is to identify stronger, weaker, and usefully plausible interpretations of historical evidence—and, inspired by Foucault, to extend the imaginative possibilities for writing history.
The Eurasian Origins of Empty Time and Space: Modernity as Temporality
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 325-356
Understood as a form of temporality, modernity is seen as consisting of empty time and space. However, careful examination of the origins of modern notions of empty time and space suggest they arose from background assumptions in wide use across Eurasia in the early modern period, and also that they arose prior to, and independent of, the emergence of the modern nation-state. Here, various Eurasian versions of astronomy and philology are examined to show that they relied on such background assumptions and could therefore be readily translated and shared across the boundaries separating quite different cosmologies.
Bondsmen and Slaves: Servile Histories in Hegel and Nietzsche
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 357-374
Recent readings of what is commonly known as the dialectic of master and slave have tended to focus either philosophically on concepts such as desire, reflection, and recognition or historically on the specific nature of the economic relation it evokes. In this paper I challenge that division of proper objects, arguing that Hegel’s dialectic and its reception raises the question how the nature of servitude (whether that of a bondsman or that of a slave) structures not only the emergence of historical agency but also the relationship between history and philosophy. The importance of reflection in Hegel’s treatment of the dialectic of lord and bondsman is both clearly stated and structural. Alexandre Kojève’s reading of this dialectic makes explicit that human history originates in it, but, unlike Hegel, Kojève does not emphasize the product of the slave’s labor. Judith Butler’s reading of the dialectic in Hegel and Kojève locates the difference between Hegel’s bondsman and Kojève’s slave within the structure of servitude itself as a Foucauldian opposition between “body” and “life.” In On the Use and Abuse of History for Life, Friedrich Nietzsche differentiates between two varieties of servile work on the basis not of what is produced but instead to whom service is rendered, announcing what turns out to be a problematic familiar from both the Old and New Testaments: the impossibility of service to two masters. In a typically perspectival turn, Nietzsche shows that servitude is a condition of possibility not only of human history but also of its academic study. Self-conscious historians must thus take into account not only the dependence of their object of study upon relations of servitude but also their own place within such relations.
Trauma, History, Memory, Identity: What Remains?
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 375-400
Despite the considerable amount of work already devoted to the topic, the nexus of trauma, history, memory, and identity is still of widespread interest, and much remains to be investigated on both empirical and theoretical levels. The ongoing challenge is to approach the topic without opposing history and memory in a binary fashion but instead by inquiring into more complex and challenging relations between them, including the role of trauma and its effects. This account attempts to set out a research agenda that is multifaceted but with components that are conceptually interrelated and that call for further research and thought. In a necessarily selective manner that does not downplay the value and importance of archival research, it treats both the role of traumatic memory and memory (or memory work) that counteracts post-traumatic effects and supplements, at times serving as a corrective to, written sources. It argues for the relevance to history of a critical but nondismissive approach to the study of trauma, memory, and identity-formation, discussing significant new work as well as indicating the continued pertinence of somewhat older work in the field. One of the under-investigated issues it addresses is the role of the so-called transgenerational transmission of trauma to descendants and intimates of both survivors and perpetrators. It concludes by making explicit an issue that is fundamental to the problem of identity and identity-formation and concerning which a great deal remains to be done: the issue of critical animal studies and its historical and ethical significance. Addressing this issue would require extending one’s purview beyond humans and attending to the importance of the relations between humans and other animals.
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 401-417
In this essay I reflect on Knox Peden’s Spinoza contra Phenomenology, a history of French rationalist Spinozism in the mid-twentieth century. The book marks an important intervention in modern French and European intellectual history, depicting the importance of Baruch Spinoza’s thought in the negotiation of and resistance to the phenomenology that captivated much of twentieth-century French intellectual life. With philosophical and historical sophistication, Peden tells the story of several relatively overlooked thinkers while also providing substantially new contexts and interpretations of the well-known Louis Althusser and Gilles Deleuze. While accounting for Peden’s major accomplishment, my aim is also to situate his work among a number of recent works in the history of Spinozism in order to reflect on the specific methodological questions that pertain to the widely varying appropriations of Spinoza’s thought since the seventeenth century. In particular, I reflect on Peden’s claim that Spinoza’s thought cannot provide an actionable politics, a claim that runs counter to nearly two centuries of leftist forms of Spinozism. I offer a short account of some of the ways that theorists have mobilized Spinoza’s thought for political purposes, redefining “action” itself in Spinozist terms. I then conclude by reflecting on the dimensions of Spinoza’s thought (and recent interpretations of it) that make it possible for such significantly different claims about its political potential to be credible.
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 418-432
This review treats Mark Greif’s remarkable inquiry into what he calls the crisis of man and man-talk: the invocation to inquire into humanity that Greif traces out through various genres of writing (philosophy, journalism, literature, and literary criticism) through a succession of decades (1930s–1960s) within an exclusively North American US context. As seems suitable for this journal, the review focuses primarily on Greif’s own standpoint and methods. In its first half, it identifies and ultimately questions Greif’s decidedly anti-hermeneutic stance. Greif cordons off his own discourse from those he treats, picking an approach that prevents his making their questions his own, despite the fact that many of his chosen texts raise issues pertaining to how history, especially intellectual history, is to be conducted. In the review’s second half, two key instances are surveyed: Greif’s discussions of Hannah Arendt and of Ralph Ellison.
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 433-451
This essay reconsiders Karl Polanyi’s famous thesis about the “embeddedness” of the economy through an examination of two recent books: For a New West, a collection of previously unavailable essays by Polanyi, and Fred Block and Margaret R. Somers’s The Power of Market Fundamentalism: Karl Polanyi’s Critique. The guiding thread of this analysis is the claim that a constant in Polanyi’s thought was his belief in what he called “the reality of society,” that is, that society exists as a social fact over and above the individuals that constitute it. The essay begins by tracing Polanyi’s intellectual development, drawing primarily on the essays found in For a New West. Polanyi’s quest to reconcile individual freedom with social solidarity led him first, in the years between the First and Second World Wars, to embrace liberal socialism, before his readings in anthropology persuaded him that traditional economies “embed” the economy in social relations and that the nineteenth-century liberal project of a “disembedded” economy (through the so-called free market) is a departure from this anthropological norm. The essay then examines and questions Block and Somers’s claim that Polanyi maintained that the economy is always “already embedded,” arguing notably that Polanyi believed that the advent of market society entailed an economy that was actually disembedded from social relations, not merely one that was re-embedded in an alternative set of institutions.
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 452-464
Autobiography of an Archive is a collection of essays by Nicholas B. Dirks written since 1991, preceded by an autobiographical introduction. This review article discusses the collection in relation to Dirks’s overall scholarship and the wider intellectual field in which history, anthropology, and colonialism intersect in the study of India. Dirks has written three books: The Hollow Crown (1987), an “ethnohistory” of a “little kingdom” in south India; Castes of Mind (2001), about colonialism, anthropology, and caste in India; and The Scandal of Empire (2006), which discusses the foundations of British imperial sovereignty. In The Hollow Crown and other writings, Dirks significantly contributed to the debate about the “rapprochement” between anthropology and history, which was prominent in the 1980s. But in the 1990s, Dirks thought, the rapprochement ground to a halt; the relationship between anthropology and colonialism then came to the fore, and Castes of Mind, as well as some of these essays, were influential critical studies of colonial anthropology. In recent essays, Dirks has examined the “politics of knowledge” and the postwar development of South Asian area studies in the United States. This article argues that although the relationship between anthropology and history is now rarely debated, historical anthropology has continued to develop since the 1980s. Moreover, anthropologists in general now recognize that history matters, and that colonialism crucially shaped modern society and culture in India, and other former colonial territories. Many of Dirks’s conclusions about, for example, Indian kingdoms and caste in colonial discourse, have been criticized by other scholars. Nonetheless, anthropological writing, especially on India, is no longer unhistorical, as it once often was, and Dirks’s scholarship has played a valuable part in bringing about this change.
History and Theory 55, no. 3 (October 2016), 465-475
This review of Alexander Gelley’s captivating book follows its attempt to respond to Benjamin’s plea to “expound the nineteenth century” and liberate us “from the stupendous forces of history,” using aisthesis, “a weak messianic force,” and “dream visions.” Taking the cue from Gelley’s reference to Benjamin’s rebellion against “a secret agreement between past generations and the present one” (156), this review attempts to open up the context and to wonder about “the secret agreement” between recent Benjamin scholarship and its own sense of the past. The review pleads with future Benjaminians to start asking questions relating to the twentieth century, and attempts to consider the relevance of Benjaminia for current political analysis and recent trends in critical studies.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 163-184
There are many ways to consider the philosophy of history. In this article, I claim that one of the most viable approaches to the philosophy of history today is that of critical theory of history, inspired by Reinhart Koselleck. Critical theory of history is based on what I call known history, history as it has been established and expounded by historians. What it contributes—its added value, so to speak—is a reflection on the categories employed to think about historical experience at its different levels, not only as a narrative but also as a series of events: their origins, contexts, terminology, functions (theoretical or practical), and, finally, eventual relevance.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 185-209
Recent years have seen the rise of “post-secularism,” a new perspective that criticizes the dominant secularization narrative according to which “modernity” and “religion” are fundamentally antagonistic concepts. Jürgen Habermas, Charles Taylor, and Gianni Vattimo are the most prominent defenders of such a post-secularist account. But though post-secularism presents itself as a necessary rectification of the secularization story, it has not been able to come up with a credible and generally accepted alternative account. In this article I will explain why, arguing that the use of “essentially contested concepts” such as “Christianity” and “modernity” rest on normative standpoints of the narrators that are incompatible with one another. To show this I will analyze the position of three older voices in the debate, namely those of Hans Blumenberg, Peter Berger, and Marcel Gauchet. These authors seem to agree in understanding the modern disenchanted worldview in relation to Christian transcendence, but I will show that beneath their similar narratives lie incompatible normative beliefs on which their use of the concepts of “Christianity” and “modernity” is founded. After having laid bare the roots of the contemporary debate by exploring these three fundamental positions, I will finally argue that we should not take their accounts as objective, historical descriptions but as what Richard Rorty has called “Geistesgeschichte”: a speculative history that is aimed at conveying a moral, in which essentially contested concepts play a constitutive role. Each author draws his own moral, and consequently each author will construct his own corresponding history. This lesson can then be applied to the contemporary debate on secularization. The value of the debate does not lie in its historical claims but in the visions of the protagonists; at the end of this article I will explain how we can capitalize on this value.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 May 2016), 210-232
In March 2013, a group of German, Nepalese, and Swiss historians, Indologists, and an architectural historian gathered for a workshop in Nepal to develop a new approach to the understanding of South Asian historiography, especially the Nepalese chronicles from the nineteenth century. The outcome is the present collaboratively written article. It is argued that, in the past, the analysis of South Asian historiography has been preoccupied by arguments based on an understanding of history that highlights facts and events. A transcultural and multidisciplinary approach, however, would overcome the common dichotomies of factuality and fictionality, history and myth, or evidence and truth. Recognizing the specificity of South Asian historiography, the article develops an approach to bridge asymmetries and entanglements in the academic use of the past in a way that also opens up a new perspective on Western historiography. By analyzing the religious, spatial, literary, and historical, and contemporary or context-related aspects of a nineteenth-century chronicle and by using “fieldwork” as a methodological tool for studying historiography, it is proposed to understand the framing of time and the making of sequences and historical periods as an open process that results in the constant and synchronic creation of chronological spaces.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 233-252
How can we decide the pertinent context in which a given object of historical study should be examined? This question has long puzzled historians. In the field of intellectual history, the Cambridge contextual school represented by Quentin Skinner triggered a series of methodological debates, in part relating to its opaque notion of context; critics have argued that a satisfactory answer to the question—how to recover a relevant context—has yet to be given. This article tackles why the question has continued to elude us. The article demonstrates that it is simply impossible to propose a practical set of guidelines on how to reconstruct a correct context because the identification of the relevant context is presupposed in the logical structure of inference in historical inquiries; identifying a relevant context is logically antecedent to the inquiry. In order to show this, the article deploys Charles Sanders Peirce’s theory of inference. Thus the article submits that Skinner conceptualized his method as what Peirce called “abduction,” which specifically seeks authorial intention as an explanatory hypothesis. This observation entails two ramifications in relation to the notion of context. One is that context in Skinner’s methodology operates on two levels: heuristic and verificatory. Confusing the two functions of context has resulted in a futile debate over the difficulty of reconstructing context. The other ramification is that abduction always requires some sort of context in order to commence an inquiry, and that context is already known to the inquirer. Any attempt to reconstruct a context also requires yet another context to invoke, thus regressing into the search for relevant contexts ad infinitum. The elusiveness of context is thus inherent in the structure of our logical inference, which, according to Peirce, always begins with abduction.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 253-269
Courtly love appeared in twelfth-century Europe as a dissent from the emotional regime established by the Gregorian Reform, by setting the lady, instead of God, as the object of worship. From a game-theory perspective, courtly love and hedonism correspond to Nash equilibria, in contrast to Christian marriage, whose stability is threatened by sex-as-appetite on one side and devotion to God on the other, and whose maintenance depends on moral control. The Church developed fear and shame, which are counter-emotions to desire-as-appetite. Courtly love restored the thrill of forbidden adventure. It also shared traits common to innovations in the natural world: it added complexity (by increasing costs, emphasizing courtship, self-restraint, and extremes of suffering); it was made possible by the plasticity of mating relationships; it introduced a small disorder in the ordered regime of Christian marriage; it demanded an adaptive effort, requiring the man to face ever more perilous trials and the woman to appear ever more attractive. Though obtained as a small deviation from the existing emotional regime, it had thoroughgoing and long-lasting consequences for social control and for the political power of the Church. It also deeply modified the dynamic of longing in ego’s representation. By taking the temporal form of a capture, it contrasts with twelfth-century Bengal, where love was characterized by maintenance in an indefinitely repeating worship, by the absence of a here-now versus target-later dualism. It also contrasts with eleventh-century Heian Japan, where love was intermingled with the melancholy of an impossible return, which is the antithesis of the concept of capture.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 270-281
retical dilemma that has shadowed debate in historiography for several decades: histories cannot be written without using some narrative structure or other, but epistemological evaluation cannot be applied to narratives qua narrative. Thus, if empirical inquiry takes the form of a history, then it cannot be rationally evaluable, and if rationally evaluable, empirical inquiry cannot be in the form of a history. Kuukkanen’s book both directly confronts and proposes a strategy for surmounting this tired and tiresome theoretical barrier. Kuukkanen deserves great credit for attempting to reshape a long-stalled debate in a way that enables the theoretical options to be imagined anew. Yet his structuring of the oppositional tendencies engenders some ongoing problems regarding how to understand the philosophical stakes and options. This review argues that achieving Kuukkanen’s postnarrativist future requires going back to past epistemic concerns discarded because they were tied to conceptions of logic and explanation that could not be reconciled with narrative form. Kuukkanen practices postnarrativism but still preaches a prenarrativist conception of logic. To reach his promised future, to actually overcome the dilemma that he rightly seeks to transcend, one must actually have the courage of Kuukkanen’s pragmatist convictions.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 282-289
Under review here are three works of different formats and scopes, each addressing questions of theory of history and the history of historiography. First, the mature work of Ignacio Olábarri Gortázar, published by the University Press of Salamanca, where he is now an emeritus professor, collects pieces written over a period of fifteen years that deal with matters related to his field of research in social labor history and other methodological and historiographical issues. Second, Fernando Sánchez Marcos seeks to offer an introductory book on the most noteworthy theoretical and historiographical issues of the twentieth century. Third, the volume from Jaume Aurell (Spain), Peter Burke (England), Catalina Balmaceda, and Felipe Soza (both from Chile) is a general handbook of historiography addressed primarily to students. All have their strengths and weaknesses. The most striking weakness is a persistent limitation of the field of vision, which is restricted to a European/Western (Francophone, Anglophone) cultural universe.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 290-301
The contributions to the collection under review offer a wide range of treatments of ways in which German colonialism intersected with aspects of domestic German culture and politics, with particular attention to the larger global setting in which the German colonial empire existed between 1884 and 1918—or was remembered up to 1945. The review situates and critiques the contributions in interpretive contexts based on general suggestions by one of the editors, Geoff Eley. These include a context in which “colonialism” and “imperialism” are recognized as specific discursive constructions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, another in which the causal focus in interpreting colonial phenomena is placed on exchanges that constituted an accelerating globality with which available conceptual modes (including colonialism and imperialism) could not keep pace, a third that complicates the categorical distinctions usually made between types of imperial program, and a fourth that aims at replicating on a much broader and more flexible basis something like the concept of “social imperialism” that forty years ago dominated interpretations of German imperialism. The essay ends with a view of how such an interpretive framework might be constructed.
History and Theory 55, no. 2 (May 2016), 302-313
Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire, edited by distinguished historians Antoinette Burton and Isabel Hofmeyr, brings together ten essays on individual books with a substantial methodological introduction. Covering the full geographical expanse of the Empire, the volume seeks to unify book and imperial history through careful accounts of the circulation, recycling, and uptake of each of the books under consideration. The upshot is an invaluable overall work with important individual contributions. At the same time, the project’s methodology and mode of presentation raise questions for the writing of history, particularly at the nexus of the histories of empire and of the book, that are reiterated but never queried within the volume itself. Specifically, in its focus on the moment of the circulation of texts, Ten Books That Shaped the British Empire reflects a general condition in the human sciences: a resistance to narrative, to causality, and to critique, which this essay attempts to describe and briefly explain.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 3-24
This article takes the Nietzschean dictum that history must “serve life” as a point of departure for an analysis of the American institution of Black History Month. Many continue to place great faith in the power of historical education to solve problems of race in America. Against this common-sense view, this article argues that the excessive historicization of the problem of racism is at least as oppressive as forgetting. The black history propagated during this month has mostly been a celebration that it is history and thus a thing of the past. The article makes the claim that it is precisely a surfeit of black history that has encouraged the view that racism is vanishing in the river of time. The constant demand to view American racism through a historical frame has led to the perception that racism is a problem that must be historically transcended rather than solved. In other words, it is through the widespread dissemination of black history during Black History Month and elsewhere that the historical category of the post-racial era has been constituted. The post-racial era is not, as is so often claimed, a denial of historical context. On the contrary, it is an assertion that the horrors of racist discrimination were once real but are now over and done with.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 25-38
Some have recognized an affinity between Pragmatist thought and that of Foucault, though this affinity is typically cashed out in terms of William James and John Dewey and not Charles Sanders Peirce. This article argues that bringing Foucault and Peirce into collaboration not only shows the relevance of Peirce for Foucault, and vice versa, but also enriches the thought of both thinkers—indeed, it also reveals important implications for the theory of history more generally. Specifically, the article crosses the Peircean concept of habit and the Foucauldian concept of practice (as it operates in the arenas of discourse, power, and self), ultimately decoding them in terms of an account of time that derives from Peirce and that gives a fundamental role to discontinuity. In this way the article shows how Peirce can provide Foucault with an account of time that buttresses and grounds his genealogical approach to history, while at the same time revealing how Foucault can provide Peirce with an account of history. The synergy between the two thinkers offers a way to think about the nature of history that goes beyond what each thinker individually provided.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 39-45
“The Rules of the Game,” expounded in ten remarkably bold theses, can easily be read as a synthetic retrospective or introduction to the formidable oeuvre of Arnaldo Momigliano. Indeed, this piece served as the opening chapter to his Introduzione bibliografica alla storia greca fino a Socrate (Florence: La Nuova Italia, 1975), and its subsequent reprints as an independent essay in several Italian journals and anthologies signal its importance for Momigliano. In this provocative and occasionally brilliantly witty essay, Momigliano sets forth his programmatic views on the ethos of the historian, as well as on the historical method and its applications in the study of ancient history. Here, as elsewhere, Momigliano is interested in detailing the link between ancient documents and their historical interpretations in later millennia. Ancient sources, he cautions, do not capture ancient realities transparently or completely, but are mediated documents whose historical value hinges, within certain limits, on the historian’s analytical questions, inflected as they inevitably are by different ideological commitments. For this reason, he places special emphasis on the comparative method, stressing difference rather than similarity, and advises that historians with various areas of expertise collaborate, a point underscored throughout the essay. What is more, the essay contains the salutary reminder that the historian ought to attend not only to the surviving documents but also to the conspicuous silences and lacunae in the evidence.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 46-65
Conceptual history is a useful tool for writing the history of emotions. The investigation of how a community used emotion words at certain times and in certain places allows us to understand specific emotion knowledge without being trapped by universalism. But conceptual history is also an inadequate tool for writing the history of emotions. Its exclusive focus on language fails to capture the meanings that can be derived from emotional expressions in other media such as painting, music, architecture, film, or even food. Here emotion history can contribute to a rethinking of conceptual history, bringing the body and the senses back in. This article proposes a theoretical model to expand conceptual history beyond language by exploring three processes of emotional translation: First, how the translation between reality and its interpretation is mediated by the body and the senses. Second, how translations between different media and sign systems shape and change the meanings of concepts. Third, how concepts translate into practices that have an impact on reality. The applicability of the model is not limited to the research on concepts of emotion; the article argues that emotions have a crucial role in all processes of conceptual change. The article further suggests that historicizing concepts can best be achieved by reconstructing the relations that actors have created between elements within multimedial semantic nets. The approach will be exemplified by looking at the South Asian concept of the monsoon and the emotional translations between rain and experiences of love and romance.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 66-90
Isaiah Berlin and other representatives of historicism have made the Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment into opposite cultures. The Counter-Enlightenment is a criticism of the Enlightenment from within, so in many respects they overlap. However, with regard to perceptions of time they contradict each other. The times of the Enlightenment lean heavily toward chronology and can be labeled as “empty,” whereas the time perceptions of the Counter-Enlightenment can be called “incarnated” and are identical with historical times. As a consequence the differences between the two temporalities lead necessarily to differences in synchronization.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 91-109
This intimidating and massive collection of twenty-nine extended, diverse essays by distinguished scholars, organized around the general theme of the current state and future direction of historical theory, raises some fundamental questions about historical theory as practiced over the past half century as well as about the distinctive nature of historical theory within the broader context of the production of historical knowledge. The editors of the volume suggest that the postmodern linguistic turn in historical theory, especially as articulated by Hayden White and Michel Foucault, marked a decisive, epochal turning-point in human historical self-consciousness, the attainment of a mature stage of autonomous metahistorical reflection on the essential nature of what it means to be historical, on historicity per se. What came before is imagined as a series of preliminary stages, what came after as a working out of implications and consequences. I suggest that a close reading of the implicit and explicit arguments of the individual essays reveals a rather different kind of historical moment, one in which postmodern historical theory has increasingly been demystified of its alleged metahistorical status, and has emerged as a situated object of historical reflection and thus has itself become increasingly defined as historical, recognized in its particularity as a temporally and culturally framed form of historical knowledge.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 110-128
Though the fourteen contributors to this volume bring varied perspectives on method, most striking is their common engagement with contextualist approaches. While some of the essays advocate a temporally and spatially extended, renewed history of ideas with debts to Arthur Lovejoy, and are critical of excessive contextualization, several either defend contextualism, or the culture concept, or offer a more robust materialist foundation for the history of thought and culture. This review focuses on the logic and metaphors used to criticize contextual methods and highlights problems with both the new history of ideas and the new materialist gestures.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 129-140
The Bayesian perspective on historiography is commonsensical: If historiography is not certain like a priori knowledge or sense data, and it is not fiction, historiography is probable. Richard Carrier’s book argues for a Bayesian, probabilistic interpretation of historiography in general and of the debate about the historicity of Jesus in particular. Jesus can be interpreted as a historically transmitted reference of “Jesus,” as a bundle of properties, or literally. Carrier devotes too much energy to debating literalism that confuses evidence with hypotheses. But evidence preserves information to different degrees; it is true or not. Carrier proposes to apply objective, frequentist Bayesianism in historiography despite the difficulties in assigning values. He argues that ranges of values can determine historiographical hypotheses. Carrier does not analyze in Bayesian terms the main method for Bayesian determination of posterior probabilities in historiography: inference from multiple independent sources. When the prior probability of a hypothesis is low, but at least two independent evidential sources, such as testimonies, support it, however unreliable each of the testimonies is, the posterior probability leaps. The problem with the Synoptic Gospels as evidence for a historical Jesus from a Bayesian perspective is that the evidence that coheres does not seem to be independent, whereas the evidence that is independent does not seem to cohere. Carrier’s explanation of some the evidence in the Gospels is fascinating as the first Bayesian reconstruction of structuralism and mimesis. Historians attempted to use theories about the transmission and preservation of information to find more reliable parts of the Gospels, parts that are more likely to have preserved older information. Carrier is too dismissive of such methods because he is focused on hypotheses about the historical Jesus rather than on the best explanations of the evidence. I leave open questions about the degree of scholarly consensus and the possible reasons for it.
History and Theory 55, no. 1 (February 2016), 141-153
Tim Crane’s books Aspects of Psychologism and The Objects of Thought present a perspective on human intentionality based on internalism about mental contents. Crane understands intentionality as the defining aspect of the mental. The theory of intentionality that he formulates is similar to that of John Searle when it comes to ontological commitments, but it is also marked by a more traditional approach that retains the concept of intentional objects as its central aspect. In this review I examine the implications of Crane’s internalism for the philosophy of history, by comparing his views with some well-known arguments in favor of externalism about mental contents, such as Hilary Putnam’s “Twin Earth” and Tyler Burge’s “arthritis” mental experiments. Although internalism about mental contents such as Crane’s is a minority view among contemporary analytic philosophers, I argue that it has significant advantages when it comes to the philosophy of history, because it is much better aligned with standard interpretive procedures in historical research. At the same time, externalism about mental contents typically results in inappropriate contextualizations and approaches that most practicing historians will find awkward. More generally, it is possible to argue that over decades, analytic philosophers’ externalist tendencies have significantly contributed to the reduced interest in their views among philosophers of history. The final section of the article reviews the implication of Crane’s views on nonconceptual contents of human perception for art historiography.
History and Theory in a Global Frame
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 1-4
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 5-26
In this essay I discuss key elements of an original and hitherto neglected contribution by the Moroccan historian, intellectual, and theorist Abdallah Laroui to historical theory in a global frame: his historical epistemology of history and his theory of time and temporalities. I argue that Laroui develops a relational and dialectical form of translation that allows for translating between multiple forms of representing history and time. His attention to temporal logics across different bodies of historical thought enables him to translate concepts of history and time across putatively given “cultural” differences of “Western,” “Islamic,” and “Muslim” forms of historical thought. By unraveling these representations of difference as situated representations of time, he usefully historicizes the very conditions of observing historical difference. Besides outlining Laroui’s approach, which I characterize as a situated universalism, I trace how his outlook on historical theory is shaped by his particular location in a postcolonial Muslim society and in a complex relation to “the modern West.” Laroui understands his own location in postcolonial Morocco in dialectical terms as characterized by the interdependence of the local and the global, the indigenous and the exogenous, and the particular and the universal. It is his confrontation with multiple bodies of historical thought that pushes him toward a concern with problems of location, positionality, conceptual translation, and self-reflexivity leading to his engagement with epistemic frames and situated temporalities. Crucially, his epistemology of history and his theory of time and temporalities constitute a powerful critique of the temporal presuppositions of centrist views of history and time as self-contained beyond the Moroccan context. Laroui’s situated universalism, I conclude, helps to rethink the problem of historical difference beyond the limits of centrist accounts and within a global frame.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 27-45
In this article for the theme issue on “Historical Theory in a Global Frame,” I argue that “Peru” is a “historical theory in a global frame.” The theory or, as I prefer, theoretical event, named Peru was born global in an early colonial “abyss of history” and elaborated in the writings of colonial and postcolonial Peruvian historians. I suggest that the looking glass held up by Peruvian historiography is of great potential significance for historical theory at large, since it is a two-way passageway between the ancient and the modern, the Old World and the New, the East and the West. This slippery passageway enabled some Peruvian historians to move stealthily along the bloody cutting-edge of global history, at times anticipating and at others debunking well-known developments in “European” historical theory. Today, a reconnaissance of Peruvian history’s inner recesses may pay dividends for a historical theory that would return to its colonial and global origins.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 46-63
In ancient China, dissatisfaction with the official compilation of histories gave rise, in time, to reflections on what makes a good historian, as well as on such issues as the factuality and objectivity of history-writing, the relationship between rhetoric and reality, and the value of historians’ subjectivity. From these reflections arose a unique set of historiographical concepts. With the coming of modern times, the urgent task of building a nation-state forced Chinese historians to borrow heavily from Western historical theories in their effort to construct a new history compatible with modernity. A tension thus arose between Western theory and Chinese history. The newly founded People’s Republic embraced the materialist conception of history as the authoritative guideline for historical studies, which increased the tension. The decline of the materialist conception of history in the period since China’s reform and opening up in the late 1970s and, with this development, the increasing plurality of theories, have not exactly lessened Chinese historians’ keenly felt anxiety when they confront Western theories. For Chinese historians, the current state of affairs with respect to theory is not exactly an extension of Western theories, nor is it a regression to the particularity of Chinese history completely outside the Western compass. Rather, a certain hybridity with respect to theory provides to Chinese historians a way to move both in and out of the West, as well as an opportunity for them to make their own contributions to Western history on the basis of borrowed Western theories.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 64-83
This essay looks at two early texts by a Hindu religious figure, Chattampi Svamikal (1853–1924), from Kerala, the southwestern region of India. Kristumatachhedanam (1890) [A Refutation of Christianity] and Pracina Malayalam (1899) [The Ancient Malayalam Region] draw upon a variety of sources across space and time: the echoes of contemporary debates across India and Empire as much as the detritus of the Enlightenment contest between rationalism and religion in Europe. Does the location of the text in “colonial India” exhaust the space-time of its imagination? The essay argues for a porous rather than a hermetic understanding; the “text” was a supplement to the actual verbal confrontation on street corners and arguments in ephemeral print. The real question is how can historians write postnational histories of thinking? How should we engage with times other than the putatively regnant homogeneous, empty time of empire or nation? I argue that there is an immanent time in texts (arising from the conventions and protocols of the form, the predilections of the thinker, and imagined affinities with ideas coming from other times and places) that exceeds the historical time of the text.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 84-104
This article assesses the meanings of the term “historiography” in Brazilian historiography from the late nineteenth century to circa 1950, suggesting that its use plays an essential role in the process of the disciplinarization and legitimation of history as a discipline. The global-scale comparison, taking into consideration occurrences of the term in German, Spanish, and French, reveals that use of the term took place simultaneously worldwide. The term “historiography” underwent a significant change globally, having become independent from the modern concept of history, shifting away from the political and social dimensions of the writing of history in the nineteenth century and unfolding into a metacritical concept. Such a process enables historians to technically distinguish at least three semantic modulations of the term: 1. history as a living experience; 2. the writing or narration of history; and 3. the critical study of historical narratives. Based on the Brazilian experience, it is possible to think of the “historiography” category as an index of the transformations of the modern concept of history itself between the 1870s and 1940s, a period of intense modification of the experience and expectations of the writing of professional historical scholarship on a global scale.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 105-124
This essay seeks to recover the ordinary and its analytical and decolonial potential within the extraordinary conditions created by settler colonialism. To do so, it investigates moments when Mohawks at Akwesasne, a community that straddles the US–Canada border, refused to acknowledge settler authority, paying particular attention to the relationship between their refusals and the condition of ordinary life. This article also considers the historical challenge of how to preserve moments of experience and their complex meanings without enveloping them in broader narratives dominated, in this case, by questions of sovereignty. How do theories of sovereignty affect the production of history, and what constraints do they place on our ability to narrate Indigenous experiences? What if we cast away the two narratives that dominate tellings of Indigenous histories: that of a settler crisis over control and that of an age-old struggle for sovereignty? Is it possible, or useful, to differentiate between acts focused primarily on maintaining the contours of ordinary, everyday life—expressions of lateral agency less about the “long haul” than about the here-and-now—and deliberate acts of political engagement, consciously aimed at the structural inequality undergirding a particular situation? Through a deep historical treatment of several moments within Akwesasne’s early twentieth-century history, this essay proposes and attempts to execute a methodology that draws together multiple theories of affect and sovereignty.
History and Theory 54, no. 4 (December 2015), 125-148
This article, through a close reading of Rabindranath Tagore’s writings on history, tries to develop his theory of history and establish the character of his historical consciousness. Tagore’s philosophy of history is distinguished from Western models of historical thinking and is resistant to aligning with nationalist and revivalistic narratives that speak only of one culture, one nation, and one community. The article works out a theoretical premise based on Tagore’s engagement with time, historical distance, the everyday, history as life-view, historical fiction, historicality in literature, and the notion of the historical-now or presentism. Substantiated by the notion of a “poet-historian,” Tagore’s historical theory works at the limits of “global history,” which is now often misappropriated through the principles of unifocality and bounded rationality. The article develops Tagore’s sense of itihasa that frees history from the univocality of world history, creates its own “worlding,” its historicality, enriching and disturbing our notions of global history.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 311-332
This article discusses the theoretical problems pertaining to the relationship between historical contextualization and historical understanding and interpretation. On the one hand, there is the view that documents need to be understood in relation to their historical context; on the other, it is not clear how a historian can get out of his or her own historical context in order to be able to engage with the conceptual frameworks, beliefs, or ways of reasoning that are radically different from his or her own. The paper proposes a resolution to this dilemma; its upshot is that historical understanding is constituted by contextualization.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 333-352
One of the most remarkable phenomena in current international politics is the increasing attention paid to “historical injustice.” Opinions on this phenomenon strongly differ. For some it stands for a new and noble type of politics based on raised moral standards and helping the cause of peace and democracy. Others are more critical and claim that retrospective politics comes at the cost of present- or future-oriented politics and tends to be anti-utopian.
The warnings about the perils of a retrospective politics outweighing politics directed at contemporary injustices, or strivings for a more just future, should be taken seriously. Yet the alternative of a politics disregarding all historical injustice is not desirable either. We should refuse to choose between restitution for historical injustices and struggle for justice in the present or the future. Rather, we should look for types of retrospective politics that do not oppose but complement or reinforce the emancipatory and utopian elements in present- and future-directed politics.
I argue that retrospective politics can indeed have negative effects. Most notably it can lead to a “temporal Manichaeism” that not only posits that the past is evil, but also tends to treat evil as anachronistic or as belonging to the past. Yet I claim that ethical Manichaeism and anti-utopianism and are not inherent features of all retrospective politics but rather result from an underlying philosophy of history that treats the relation between past, present, and future in antinomic terms and prevents us from understanding “transtemporal” injustices and responsibilities.
In order to pinpoint the problem of certain types of retrospective politics and point toward some alternatives, I start out from a criticism formulated by the German philosopher Odo Marquard and originally directed primarily at progressivist philosophies of history.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 353-366
Established writers whose reputation is affixed to a particular line of argument are typically ill disposed to change their minds in public. Some authors sincerely believe that the historical record vindicates them. Others are determined that the historical record will vindicate them. Still others ignore the historical record. Among students of totalitarianism, no one had more at stake reputationally than Hannah Arendt. It is not just that The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951) established her as the premier thinker on its topic. It is also that totalitarianism, as she understood it, ribbons through all of her subsequent books, from the discussion of “the social” in The Human Condition (1958) to the analysis of thinking in the posthumously published The Life of the Mind (1978). How ready was she to adapt or to change entirely arguments she had first formulated as early as the mid-to-late 1940s? “Stalinism in Retrospect,” her contribution to Columbia University’s Seminar on Communism series, offers a rare opportunity to answer, at least partially, this question.
Arendt’s foil was the publication of recent books on Stalin and the Stalin era by three Russian witnesses: Nadezhda Mandelstam, Roy Medvedev, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. According to Arendt, the books meshed with her own theoretical conception of Bolshevism while changing the “whole taste” of the period: they contained new insights into the nature of totalitarian criminality and evil. “Stalinism in Retrospect” documents Arendt’s arguments and challenges to them by a number of the seminar’s participants. Of particular note is the exchange between her and Zbigniew Brzezinski, an expert on the Soviet Union, a major interpreter of totalitarianism in his own right, and soon to be President Carter’s National Security Adviser (January 1977–January 1981). Notes by the editor, Peter Baehr, offer a critical context for understanding Arendt’s argument.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 366-371
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 372-388
This essay argues that to understand Foucault’s attraction to neoliberalism, we must understand the elective theoretical affinities that he perceived between this current in economic thought and one of the central elements of his own philosophical project: the critique of humanism or “anthropologism” (that is, the tendency in modern thought to sift all knowledge through human knowledge). Specifically, the essay examines moments in Foucault’s 1978 and 1979 lectures when Foucault clearly refers to the arguments of his earlier work, The Order of Things, the locus classicus of his philosophical antihumanism. In particular, Foucault claimed that economists of the Chicago School developed a theory of labor that escaped the limitations of the “anthropological” theory of labor associated with Adam Smith, David Ricardo, and Karl Marx. He also interpreted the notion of homo oeconomicus and Smith’s idea of the market’s “invisible hand” as critiques of the characteristically modern attempt to make transcendental claims on the basis of human nature. The essay concludes by asking if Foucault’s philosophical antihumanism provides an adequate vantage point from which to critique contemporary capitalism.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 389-403
This paper responds to and comments on many of the themes of the book under consideration concerning Foucault and neoliberalism. In doing so, it offers reflections on the relation between the habitus of the intellectual and the political contexts of action and engagement in the case of Foucault, and the strengths and weaknesses of his characterization of his work in terms of an “experimental” ethos. It argues that it is possible to identify his distinctive views on neoliberalism as a programmatic ideal, as a language of critique of the postwar welfare state, and as an element within actual political forces such as the French “Second Left” of the 1970s. It examines the legacy of Foucault in “governmentality studies” and argues for attentiveness to the different intellectual positions, and their potentially divergent political consequences, within this school of thought. It concludes by suggesting that the discussion currently taking place, and in part inaugurated by this book, might signal a change of his status in the humanities and social sciences today from “unsurpassable horizon” of critical thought to acknowledged classical thinker, with strengths and limitations, and a series of problems that might not be our own.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 404-418
Michael Foucault’s 1979 lectures at the Collège de France on the birth of biopolitics are increasingly read as the most lucid introduction to neoliberal policies. This article invites us to be cautious about such claims by exploring one rather obvious point: these lectures also—and perhaps most important—reflect Foucault’s very distinctive and contemporary preoccupations. In 1978, Foucault wrote about and reflected on three topics that were, in his view, crucial: the idea of “critique” and the influence of Kant; Foucault’s project for an “analytical philosophy of politics”; and the crisis of disciplinary society, notably as it related to sexuality. This paper shows that these preoccupations had a profound impact on Foucault’s interest in neoliberalism. As a result, the interpretation of the neoliberal revolution proposed in these brilliant lectures is, if not idiosyncratic, at the very least highly partial.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 419-428
Michael Roth’s new collection of essays, written over the last two decades, is held together by its author’s pervasive concern with human temporality: our individual and collective passages through time, recorded by the faculty of memory, which pose some of our most intractable problems. The essays treat, and indeed provide a map to, several adjacent areas of inquiry: the history of the psychopathology of memory in the long nineteenth century; the vicissitudes of the trauma-concept from its relatively modest medical origins to its postmodern apotheosis; and photography as a medium and art form embroiled in our relationship with the past. Roth’s major interventions are threefold. First, while persuaded of the value of the psychoanalytic version of the trauma-concept, he critiques the so-called traumatophilia of postmodern theorists who, usually with reference to the Holocaust, seek to invest trauma with ethical valences and powers of legitimation or even, as in the case of Agamben, raise it to ontological status. Second, through his fine-grained account of Freud’s convergence with and divergence from his French colleagues, especially Charcot and Janet, Roth argues that the stunning breakthrough of psychoanalysis was to take the past seriously, to recognize the inevitable penetration of the past into the present in the human psyche as well our affective investment in and need to narrativize the past. For Roth, Freud’s continued relevance today resides in what he has taught us about living with the past. Finally, Roth begins to develop the concept of “piety” as an attitude toward the past that fuels the writing of history. He leaves the concept in rudimentary form, but his evocative remarks suggest the fruitfulness of developing it further.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 429-440
In light of recent revelations about global ignorance and disbelief regarding the Holocaust, first-hand testimonies acquire fresh significance. Two disparate books frame this discussion of how writings by survivors serve to deepen our understanding of the Shoah. Otto Dov Kulka’s memoir, Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death, is a carefully crafted account by a professional historian who survived as a child in Auschwitz. Thomas Trezise’s work, Witnessing Witnessing, is an analytical inquiry into the literary and epistemic issues that frame different genres of testimony ranging from video to poetry.
Kulka’s slender account is situated in the context of other works by survivors, including Saul Friedländer’s When Memory Comes, Charlotte Delbo’s Auschwitz and After, and a more recent work by Joseph Polak, After the Holocaust the Bells Still Ring. The emphasis in this discussion is upon the challenges that survivors face in articulating horror, especially to readers in the twenty-first century. Trezise’s more voluminous work is based upon the literary and philosophical theories of Adorno, Levinas, and Freud, among others. The question raised in this essay focuses upon which of these narrative strategies might work better to convey the complex meanings of the Shoah after the generation of survivors has departed from the historical scene.
In the end, the halting words of those who went through the death camps is all we have to counter the ignorance and disbelief spreading around the world. Kulka’s book, combining memories, dreams, and art works, fosters an imaginative encounter with inconceivable historical realities. Trezise’s theoretical engagement with indexicality and with the phatic function of language helps us to understand the impact of testimonies within the scholarly literature. It does not, however, point a clear path toward conveying the importance of the Holocaust to the public at large. For this purpose, we need books such as Kulka’s that enable the generation after the Holocaust to listen to silences embedded in survivor narratives. These silences must be carried forward in time, along with the ethical mandate not to forget the atrocities of the Shoah. If we can embrace this mission, we may be able to diminish the reign of hate running amuck today.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 441-454
Katsuya Hirano’s The Politics of Dialogic Imagination: Power and Popular Culture in Early Modern Japan offers an Althusser-inflected analysis of the relationship between power structures and the economy of cultural production, with a focus on late eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Edo. Hirano spells out his cultural assumptions, and then examines the cultures of parody, comic realism, the grotesque, and the changing relationship between the Meiji state and the body. This theoretical tour de force, however, raises many questions regarding its assumptions about the structure of the early modern Japanese polity, elided evidence, and interpretation. As such, it will stimulate ongoing discussion regarding the place of theory, and in particular of neo-Marxism, in contemporary historiography.
History and Theory 54, no. 3 (October 2015), 455-470
The central argument of this review essay is that the British and French traditions of biography, and specifically Napoleonic biography, are quite different. The two works under consideration are outstanding examples of the differences. Boswell’s Life of Johnson is the cornerstone of modern British biography, and Andrew Roberts follows this example. Although Johnson was not a political or military figure but a man of letters, Roberts’s biography of Napoleon adheres to the close focus on a single man, with only limited excursions beyond his hero’s life and deeds. In addition, Roberts’s work is essentially a military biography, and his considerable strengths lie here. The French, without a Boswell, have relegated biography to a lesser role, until recently. Patrice Gueniffey, in what will be a multi-volume work—this first volume goes only to 1802—is more interested in Napoleon’s place in the history of Europe, and especially Revolutionary France. Napoleon is often confined to the wings while Gueniffey sets the stage.
Roberts’s judgments and assessments, while shrewd and informed, are often more conventional than those of Gueniffey, who sees the Egyptian campaign as one of the important keys to understanding the young Bonaparte and his subsequent career. He is also deeply interested in fixing Bonaparte’s place in the French Revolution. Because Gueniffey ends his first volume with the Consulate, a more detailed comparison of the two works is not possible.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 153-161
In this introductory essay we briefly discuss three issues. First, we take stock of and pay tribute to the main achievements of narrativism, on the one hand. On the other hand, we also note its weariness as a scholarly project and argue that the philosophy of history is gradually moving toward a broadly understood postnarrativist stage and a period of renewed theoretical innovation. Next, as a part of this shift, we briefly introduce the forum contributions and discuss how they relate to narrativism. Finally, in place of a conclusion we offer some thoughts on where the philosophy of history might be heading after narrativism has ceased to be the integrative framework of diverging theoretical enterprises.
In this article, I question the unspoken assumption in historical theory that there is a trade-off between language or narrative, on the one hand, and experience or presence, on the other. Both critics and proponents of historical experience seem to presuppose that this is indeed the case. I argue that this is not necessarily true, and I analyze how the opposition between language and experience in historical theory can be overcome. More specifically, I identify the necessary conditions for a philosophy of language that can be the basis for this. Second, I will also suggest and present one specific instance of such a solution. I argue that the existential philosophies of language of Martin Buber and Emmanuel Levinas can be exactly the kind of theory we need. For Buber and Levinas, language is not a means for accessing reality, but rather a medium of encounters between human beings. I present Levinas’s and Buber’s arguments, discuss how their views could be applied to the writing of history, and assess what the resulting picture of the writing of history could look like.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 178-194
The theory and philosophy of history (just like philosophy in general) has established a dogmatic dilemma regarding the issue of language and experience: either you have an immediate experience separated from language, or you have language without any experiential basis. In other words, either you have an immediate experience that is and must remain mute and ineffable, or you have language and linguistic conceptualization that precedes experience, provides the condition of possibility of it, and thus, in a certain sense, produces it. Either you join forces with the few and opt for such mute experiences, or you go with the flow of narrative philosophy of history and the impossibility of immediacy. Either way, you end up postulating a mutual hostility between the nonlinguistic and language, and, more important, you remain unable to account for new insights and change. Contrary to this and in relation to history, I am going to talk about something nonlinguistic—historical experience—and about how such historical experience could productively interact with language in giving birth to novel historical representations. I am going to suggest that, under a theory of expression, a more friendly relationship can be established between experience and language: a relationship in which they are not hostile to but rather desperately need each other. To explain the occurrence of new insights and historiographical change, I will talk about a process of expression as sense-formation and meaning-constitution in history, and condense the theory into a struck-through “of,” as the expression of historical experience.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 195-208
Narrativism as a theory of historical depiction intuitively opens the question: what is left of reality when it is poured through the filter of language structures? And, extended a little bit further, questions arise: What is responsible for the final shape of a historical depiction? Is it experience or language? What is affecting what? Narrativism typically accuses language units of transforming experience in a specific way. However, even in asking these questions, the problem of the separation of experience from language and language from experience remains.
In this article, I address this issue using Gadamer’s hermeneutical frame. Wherever philosophical tradition insists on the separation of certain positions, Gadamer tries to show their ontological connections. For Gadamer, understanding is a basic ontological structure, within which both sides of a dialogue affect and constitute each other. In Gadamerian hermeneutical ontology, there is no “starting point” or first responsible position. In the understanding, dialogue has the permanently moving character of a play, where separate positions are erased.
This Gadamerian view can also be applied to the question of language and experience and their mutual connection in depicting any experience via language. In Gadamer’s example of the work of art, the original subject matter (Urbild) is articulated through its depiction. The subject matter dictates possible ways of depicting, which in turn dictate the final shape of depiction. In this article, I discuss Gadamer’s term “articulation of the world,” by which he means a function of language. Articulation is simply a transformation of shapeless matter into a shape, and in our case it is a transformation of an experience into a language depiction. I show that the Gadamerian approach to language and experience can offer an interesting perspective on the issues discussed in reaction to narrativist philosophy of history.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 209-225
Narrativist philosophy of history popularized a constructivist view arguing that historical works are not simple depictions of the past but rather are complicated constructions. According to narrativists, historians engage in a creative activity of proposing points of view, interpretations, or theses on the past that do not straightforwardly reflect past events. Although this is a broad constructivist view behind the theorizing of a number of authors, it is possible to distinguish within this line of thinking at least two general proposals about how to understand historical works. The first, defended for instance by Frank Ankersmit, maintains that historical works are representations of the past. Nevertheless, these representations are not descriptions of past events—they represent in a special way that could be characterized via a certain complexity, indirectness, holism, and a retrospective approach. The second proposal, presented in the work of Paul Roth and Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen, discards the epistemic framework of representation and understands historical works as the outcome of specific practices. In this article, I focus on these two constructivist versions, which could be called representationalism and non-representationalism. I analyze their crucial features, discuss their differences, and dispute the accusation that the latter view formulates an extreme theory of history. I argue that non-representationalism does not erase the notion of the past from its account of history; it merely attributes to the past a function different from the one it has within the representationalist paradigm.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 226-243
The central challenge of the philosophy of history and historiography is to find a principled way to rank different interpretations of the past without assuming their truth in terms of correspondence. The narrativist insight of the narrative philosophy of historiography was to correctly question historical realism. It analyzed texts and showed that they cannot reflect the past as it is. However, the rejection of the truth-functional evaluation threatens to lead to an “anything goes” approach in terms of cognitive evaluation of historiography. In any case, no adequate theory of evaluation has so far been developed, although clearly not all historiographical interpretations are acceptable. Postnarrativist philosophy of historiography suggests that any history book includes a content-synthesizing unit, but that it is problematic to think that it is “narrative” that structures texts. It is better to think of historiography texts as presenting reasoning for views and theses about the past. Arguments for these theses should be considered not as being true but as more or less appropriate, fitting, or warranted. The historian aims to produce as highly rationally warranted and compelling a thesis of the past as possible; its rational appropriateness depends on three dimensions of cognitive evaluation: the epistemic, the rhetorical, and the discursive.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 226-243
This essay argues that, in their reflection of theoretical positions, autobiographies by historians may become valid historical writings (that is, both true narratives and legitimate historical interpretations) and, as a consequence and simultaneously, privileged sources for historiographical inquiry and evidence of its evolution. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, following the model established by Carolyn Steedman, historians such as Geoff Eley, Natalie Z. Davis, Gabrielle M. Spiegel, Dominick LaCapra, Gerda Lerner, William H. Sewell, Jr., Sheila Fitzpatrick, and John Elliott created a new form of academic life-writing that has challenged established literary and historiographical conventions and resisted generic classification. This article aims to examine this new historical-autobiographical genre—including the subgenre of the “autobiographical paper”—and highlights its ability to function as both history (as a retrospective account of the author’s own past) and theory (as a speculative approach to historiographical questions). I propose to call these writings interventional in the sense that these historians use their autobiographies, with a more or less deliberate authorial intention, to participate, mediate, and intervene in theoretical debates by using the story of their own intellectual and academic trajectory as the source of historiography. Traditional historians’ autobiographies, including ego-historical essays, have provided us with substantial information about the history of historiography; these new performative autobiographies help us to better understand historiography and the development of the historical discipline. Interventional historians seek not only to understand their lives but also to engage in a more complex theoretical project.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 244-268
Philip Gorski’s edited book engages the question of how Bourdieu’s concepts can aid historical analysis, and in particular, account for change as well as reproduction. From a fascinating set of papers, this review essay takes special notice of two that theorize crisis. One, by Ivan Ermakoff, engages the question of whether disruption creates the opportunity for more conscious calculation on the part of actors; a second, by Gisele Sapiro, considers how a crisis reverberates through a specific field. This leads to further reflection on Bourdieu’s work on power and the state, as well as a call for crisis hermeneutics in social theory.
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 269-276
History and Theory 54, no. 2 (May 2015), 269-276
Edited by Giuseppe Galasso, one of Italy’s most distinguished historians, this large volume seeks to convey the Italian contribution to historiography and political thought from the dawn of the Middle Ages into the present century, though it is overwhelmingly concentrated on the centuries since 1400. It includes six overview essays, but over 70 percent of its bulk consists of short articles, 108 in all, the vast majority on individual figures, and most of them five to seven pages in length. Whereas the approach, through individual figures, makes the volume especially valuable as a reference work, the approach also entails limitations making it hard to delineate and assess a distinctively Italian contribution. Readers must often connect the dots on their own if they are to discern the strands of a distinctive tradition. In his introductory overview, Galasso suggests a special Italian sensitivity to history, or capacity for the philosophy of history, but the suggestion is left vague and is followed up only in the most ad hoc way in the subsequent essays. The book offers little on how Italian idiosyncrasy might have either compromised or enhanced wider impact. Although the extent of Italian international interaction is well documented, there is little attention to reciprocity and the scope for synergy. Nor is there much assessment of the implications of changes in the valences of that interaction over the centuries, especially in breeding self-criticism and sometimes compensatory myth-making that might have further complicated the resonance of Italian offerings. But the volume demonstrates the richness of the Italian contribution and implicitly invites us to better encompass it, perhaps through comparative work and further research on multinational interplay.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 1-24
In Time and Narrative, Paul Ricoeur confirms the relationship between time experience and how it is epitomized in a narrative by investigating historiography and fiction. Regarding fiction, he explores temporality in three “novels of time” [Zeitromane]: Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf, The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann, and À la recherche du temps perdu by Marcel Proust. Ricoeur perceives the temporalities as homogeneous; however, in my view, the novels contain at least three different temporalities. Mann seeks a new temporality by ironizing a romantic time of rise and fall and Woolf configures a time we can call the simultaneity of the dissimultaneous. In his analysis of Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu, Ricoeur explicitly dismisses a Bergsonian approach to temporality. In my opinion, Bergson defends a heterogeneous time that is apparent in Proust’s novel.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 25-44
Emerging from the work of Foucault and Bourdieu in particular, a powerful theoretical critique of prevailing notions of censorship and its opposite, free speech, emerged in the waning decades of the last century. The principal theoretical contribution, I will argue, of this “New Censorship Theory” has been not to overthrow the dominant liberal conception of censorship, but rather to bracket this conception as a separate and ultimately subordinate species of censorship. In this article I reexamine the development of New Censorship Theory, especially its antecedents in the Marxist critique of bourgeois civil society. In place of an exclusive focus upon state actions, newer conceptions of censorship have enshrined self-censorship as the paradigm and have seen traditional forms of censorship as secondary to impersonal, structural forms like the market. I argue that historians’ qualms about New Censorship Theory stem from concerns over this erasure of the specificity of state repressive force. Rather than simply accepting the division of censorship into a dichotomy of repressive/authoritative and productive/structural, this article argues that no strict distinction ought to be drawn. Instead, investigations of censorship in the traditional sense must incorporate the insights of newer theories to understand state censors as actors internal to communication networks, and not as external, accidental features. By investigating the intellectual trajectory of New Censorship Theory, I posit a way forward for historians to incorporate its insights while addressing their concerns.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 45-68
Historians have taken a beating in recent times from an array of critics troubled by our persistent unwillingness to properly theorize our work. This essay contends that their criticisms have generally failed to make headway among mainstream historians owing to a little noticed cognitive byproduct of our work that I call history as philosophy. In so doing I offer a novel defense of professional history as it has been understood and practiced in the Anglophone world over the last half-century or so while suggesting, in conclusion, that historians could not do other than they do without serious psychic and societal loss.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 69-85
Since its appearance in 2007, Charles Taylor’s monumental book A Secular Age has received much attention. One of the central issues in the discussions around Taylor’s book is the role of history in philosophical argumentation, in particular with regard to normative positions on ultimate affairs. Many critics observe a methodological flaw in using history in philosophical argumentation in that there is an alleged discrepancy between Taylor’s historical approach, on the one hand, and his defense of fullness in terms of openness to transcendence, on the other. Since his “faith-based history” is unwittingly apologetic, it is not only “hard to judge in strictly historical terms,” but it also proves that “when it comes to the most ultimate affairs history may not matter at all.”
This paper challenges this verdict by exposing the misunderstanding underlying this interpretation of the role of history in Taylor’s narrative. In order to disambiguate the relation between history and philosophy in Taylor’s approach, I will raise three questions. First, what is the precise relation between history and ontology, taking into account the ontological validity of what Taylor calls social imaginaries? Second, why does “fullness” get a universal status in his historical narrative? Third, is Taylor’s position tenable that the contemporary experience of living within “an immanent frame” allows for an openness to transcendence?
In order to answer these questions, I will first compare Peter Gordon’s interpretation of the status of social imaginaries with Taylor’s position and, on the basis of that comparison, distinguish two definitions of ontology (sections I and II). Subsequently, I try to make it clear that precisely Taylor’s emphasis on the historical character of social imaginaries and on their “relaxed” ontological anchorage allows for his claim that “fullness” might have a trans-historical character (section III). Finally, I would like to show that Taylor’s defense of the possibility of an “openness to transcendence”—as a specific mode of fullness—is not couched in “onto-theological” terms, as suggested by his critics, but that it is the very outcome of taking into account the current historical situation (section IV).
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 86-95
Fear across the Disciplines. Edited by Jan Plamper and Benjamin Lazier. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 2012. Pp. 237.
Facing Fear: The History of an Emotion in Global Perspective. Edited by Michael Laffan and Max Weiss. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2013. Pp. 288.
This article reviews two edited volumes on fear, important contributions to the newly developing field of the history of emotions. The question at the center of Jan Plamper and Benjamin Lazier’s volume is how fear is constituted as an object; this question is investigated in an interdisciplinary dialogue. Focusing on the twentieth century, the editors bring together psychologists, historians of science and of emotions, and specialists in literature studies, politics, and film. Taking the dialogue beyond the social sciences is certainly an exciting and necessary exercise, but it also raises the question whether both sides are really talking about the same object.
Michael Laffan and Max Weiss place fear in a global history perspective. They cover a wide scope, from early modernity to the present, and geographically including the Americas and Indonesia. Taken together, both volumes not only give an impressive overview of the field of fear studies, and add to it through a number of case studies, but also raise the question “what object is fear?” in a new way. If this object is as fluid as appears from the two volumes—not only with respect to the different events that trigger fear, the different uses it was put to, and the politics it allowed, but as a felt emotion—this calls for further investigation notably into the words and concepts used to make sense of the experience.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 96-105
The Structure of World History: From Modes of Production to Modes of Exchange. By Kojin Karatani. Translated by Michael Bourdaghs. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2014. Pp. 384.
Kojin Karatani’s Structure of World History seeks to rescue the philosophy of history and restore to it the relationship between philosophical reflection and historical practice. This connection is particularly pertinent in Karatani’s case since he had earlier worked out the philosophical scaffolding of this monumental study in his book Transcritique: On Kant and Marx, which embarked on a “return to Capital once more to read the potential that has been overlooked.” By juxtaposing Marx to Kant and vice versa to discover the importance of exchange over production, he found what was to become the informing principle of his later philosophy of history. While Karatani’s accounting of the structure of world history presumes to recount the passage of the world’s history from nomadic societies to the present as a condition to rethink “social formations” from a perspective that recalls the form of a stagist philosophy of history attributed to Marx and Engels, he has abandoned its informing principle of the modes of production. Instead, he offers the perspective of modes of exchange, which means waiving any consideration concerning who owns the means of production: the putative “economic base” underlying superstructural representations like the state, religion, and culture upheld by a vulgate tradition of Marxian historical writing and discounted by bourgeois historiography as deterministic. The decision to shift to modes of exchange means rooting the primary mode of exchange taking place first in nomadic societies, rather than forms of production and archaic communal ownership of land. Although his revised scheme still accords priority to the economic, the putative division between base and superstructures still persists, even though the latter are still produced by the former, which is now the mode of exchange. Whereas Marx privileged commodity exchange as dominant, Karatani places greater emphasis on the earliest mode of exchange, which consists of the “pure gift,” associated with early nomadic social formations and reciprocity practices by clans, and seems to offer nomadic/clan communalism as a model that resembles Marx’s own strategic linking of the surviving Russian commune and contemporary capitalism. The point to this project is to transcend the hegemonic trinity of capital, nation, and state and satisfy a desire to share with other globalists a vision that aims to overcome the defects of capitalism and the nation-state and the failure of a Marxian expectation that nation-states will simply wither away with the final surpassing of capitalism. To this end, Karatani’s appeal to Kant offers to inject a moral element absent in the merely economic structure of history that will thus provide the promise of “world peace,” which ultimately requires an abolition of the nation-state as a condition for realizing a “simultaneous bourgeois revolution” that would finally overcome state and capital and establish a world federation.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 106-115
Zukunft der Geschichte: Geschichtsphilosophie und Zukunftsethik. By Johannes Rohbeck (Deutsche Zeitschrift für Philosophie, Sonderband 31). Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2013. Pp. 202.
Philosophy of history has a threefold dimension: material, formal, and functional, which have largely been conceptualized as mutually exclusive. It is high time to mediate them into a coherent relationship, and Rohbeck’s book is a decisive step toward such a new philosophy of history.
The book is divided into three parts: the first deals with the relationship between history and the future, the second analyzes the relationship between history and ethics, and the third synthesizes these two aspects into a pragmatics of history. With regard to the first part, historical thinking is based on a perception of temporal otherness related to the past. Rohbeck prolongs the time perspective by bridging this time gap into the future. As to the second, Rohbeck replaces teleology by ethics. Teleology includes ethics but limits its scope to a one-sided development. Ethics allows many more options. Finally, who is the agent for historical ethics? Rohbeck proposes the “generation” as the basic actor in historical change and the addressee of ethical commitment.
At the end of his work, Rohbeck draws consequences for the idea of philosophy of history from his idea of historical ethics. He shows that history has a new perspective if it is viewed through the lens of ethical elements in the fundamental relationship between past, present, and future.
Of course, many questions follow this fascinating new version of the old philosophy of history. I raise only three of them: (1) What synthesizes the three dimensions of time into one and the same history? (2) Did we not learn from historicism that values in ethics have an inbuilt temporality? This argument does not run against the idea of an ethics of history, but should sharpen its genuine historical character. (3) Who is the agent of this change: who brings it about and at the same is subjected to it? An anonymous sum of generations in space and time is not a convincing answer. We need an integrative idea that covers the vast field of experience of the human world in space and time and that covers the strong commitment to universal values. In this respect it would be worthwhile to pick up the idea of humankind as it was conceptualized as the red thread of history in traditional, modern philosophy of history.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 116-125
History as Thought and Action: the Philosophies of Croce, Gentile, de Ruggiero and Collingwood. By Rik Peters. Exeter, UK: Imprint Academic, 2013. Pp. x, 429.
It is argued that although this book will be of interest to any scholar interested in Croce, Gentile, or de Ruggiero, it will be of particular interest to those interested in R. G. Collingwood, for the ultimate focus of the book is upon Collingwood’s philosophy and how it developed in relation to the work of the Italian idealists. This is a subject that has not previously been investigated in any depth. Peters argues that the basic idea that unites all four philosophers is that “the past is not dead, but living”; but what distinguishes Collingwood’s philosophy from the Italians’ is the idea, and its justification, that “the past can live on even if we are not aware of it.” Collingwood explored and developed this idea in reaction to the “presentism” of the Italians, a position that is most obvious in the philosophy of Gentile but that is also to be found, albeit less obviously, in the philosophies of Croce and de Ruggiero.
Without casting doubt upon the influence of the Italian idealists on Collingwood, it is suggested in this review that, as well as explaining that influence, Peters’s book also throws Collingwood’s similarities with Oakeshott into relief; by contrast with Collingwood, there is no evidence that Oakeshott ever read the Italian idealists.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 126-137
Global Intellectual History. Edited by Samuel Moyn and Andrew Sartori. New York: Columbia University Press, 2013. Pp. vii, 342.
Recent years have seen the growing prominence of “global history” as a subject of research, especially in North America and Europe. However, there is no consensus on what the contours of the subject are, or what the appropriate research methods for it might be. Further, there are quite a few skeptics among historians with regard to this trend. The appearance of a volume on the subfield of “global intellectual history” is an occasion to reflect on all these issues, especially when the volume in question suggests that “the future of intellectual history as a discipline lies in this direction.” This review essay, while appreciative of the effort to lay out the contours of the field, as well as to point to possible future directions for research and reflection, is nevertheless somewhat critical of the actual execution of the project. It is found to be lacking in chronological depth, and also highly uneven in quality, as well as excessively centered on a few “great thinkers” such as Hegel and Marx. A greater attention to the centuries between 1500 and 1800, when a polycentric global regime of knowledge (however tenuous it proved) was established, would have been particularly helpful. Most important, there is the question of whether a history claiming to be “global,” as distinct from “universal,” should not pay closer attention to questions of space and geography.
History and Theory 54, no. 1 (February 2015), 138-147
Age of Entanglement: German and Indian Intellectuals across Empire. By Kris Manjapra. Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 2014. Pp. 442.
The study of cultural interactions between Asia and Europe in modern times has moved beyond a mere description of mutual “images” and a ritualized assertion of fundamental incompatibility in the dichotomous tradition going back to the critique of Orientalism. Using “entanglement” as his guiding concept, the author unfolds a rich panorama of Indian and Germanic (including Austrian and Swiss) intellectuals in personal contact and distant dialogue from the 1880s to 1945. Their shared framework of meaning was the resistance to “empire.” The book ambitiously advances a broader vision of global intellectual history. This raises a number of theoretical issues requiring further debate.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 473-497
This essay focuses on untranslatability to discuss the diachronic temporality of the history of concepts. Defining untranslatables as the paradoxical origin and product of translating, it explores their role in mediating the long-term history of concepts by disrupting the historical boundaries of a period and challenging the contexts through which past meaning is confined to the moyenne durée. Addressing first the critical appraisal of the history of ideas by Quentin Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock, it discusses their alternative suggestion of a history of discourses, rather than concepts or ideas, to move to Pocock’s formulation of the category of “diachronic translation” as a shift from the moyenne to the longue durée. It then turns to Begriffsgeschichte to explore the interrelation of untranslatables, Koselleck’s consideration of translation, and his theory of historical times. It suggests that Koselleck not only states that translation mediates the history of concepts, but also envisions a distinct temporality associated with the aporetic condition of translating what is untranslatable. The aporia of translations underlies both the historical depth of concepts as a conceptual reserve and an act of silencing past meaning. The ensuing conjunction of surplus and erasure qualifies Koselleck’s category of multiple times by designating the time of translation as “obscure time.” It is a time that displaces us from the apparent meaning of concepts in a certain period by receding toward the otherness of the past and suspending meaning that is already in the future. These two characteristics of obscure time, its receding and suspending nature, not only stand against the continuity of periodizing; they also make visible a politics of translation as an act of disruption of the present wherein the past becomes a reserve of meanings resisting appropriative interpretation.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 498-518
In this essay, which introduces the History and Theory forum on Multiple Temporalities, I want to discuss how the existence of a plurality or a multiplicity of times has been conceptualized in the historiographical tradition, partly by entering into a dialogue with recent writers, historians, philosophers, sociologists, anthropologists, and literary scholars, partly by returning to the eighteenth century, to the origin of “the modern regime of historicity” (Hartog). In these theoretical and historical investigations I aim to do two things: on the one hand, to explore and discuss different ways of conceptualizing multiple times, in terms of nonsynchronicities, layers of time, or natural and historical times; on the other hand, to trace how these multiple times have been compared, unified, and adapted by means of elaborate conceptual and material practices that I here call “practices of synchronization.” From the eighteenth century onward, these synchronizing practices, inspired by, but by no means reducible to, chronology have given rise to homogeneous, linear, and teleological time, often identified as modern time per se, or simply referred to as “progress.” In focusing on the practices of synchronization, however, I want to show how this regime of temporality during its entire existence, but especially at the moment of its emergence in the eighteenth century and at the present moment of its possible collapse, has been challenged by other times, other temporalities, slower, faster, with other rhythms, other successions of events, other narratives, and so on.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 519-544
This article argues that the academic representation of Islamic history as a single timeline, which was established in the nineteenth century and continues to predominate to the present, is a primary issue restricting fruitful readings of Islamic historical materials. Utilizing insights in thinking about history that favor multiple temporalities, I suggest that scholars in Islamic studies can expand the possibilities of their work by paying attention to the diversity of ways in which time is conceptualized within original materials. As illustrations for the rethinking I advocate, I provide readings of the structures and literary affects of three Persian works in different genres, produced circa 1490–1540 ce. I suggest that a foundational reorientation in the field of Islamic historiography has the potential to help us break out of binds identified in the critique of orientalism provided by Edward Said and others and would lead to better ways to approach developments in Muslim societies.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 545-562
This article is an attempt to address on a theoretical level an antinomy in postcolonial approaches to the question of temporal difference. Current scholarship tends both to denounce the way in which the others of the Western self are placed notionally in another time than the West and not only analytically affirm but indeed valorize multiple temporalities. I elaborate on the two problematic temporal frameworks—linear developmentalism and cultural relativism—that belong to a colonial legacy and generate the antinomy in question, and then proceed to discuss possible alternatives provided by a Koselleck-inspired approach to historical time as inherently plural. I thereby make two central claims: (1) postcolonial conceptions of multiple temporalities typically, if tacitly, associate time with culture, and hence risk reproducing the aporias of cultural relativism; (2) postcolonial metahistorical critique is commonly premised on a simplified and even monolithic understanding of Western modernity as an ideology of “linear progress.” Ultimately, I suggest that the solution lies in radicalizing, not discarding, the notion of multiple temporalities. Drawing on the Brazilian classic Os sertões as my key example, I also maintain that literary writing exhibits a unique “heterochronic” (in analogy with “heteroglossic”) potential, enabling a more refined understanding of temporal difference.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014),563-576
This paper looks at interconnections between social, scientific, and technical time over the period since the Enlightenment. The underlying argument is that each of these can be woven into a single narrative of our experience and description of time over that period. In particular, I maintain that the synchronization of social and natural time into ever smaller, interchangeable units has culminated today in the evacuation of the narrative of progress in favor of an ideology of the eternal present. Contra technologically determinist characterizations that claim a fundamental historical disjuncture occurring with the development of computers, I claim that this timeless present has historical roots going back to the origin of industrial societies through the age of Victorian certainty to our current epoch. The multiple times described here are argued to be telling a single story. I demonstrate this through developing a historiographical principle of infrastructural inversion, which foregrounds a common set of “techniques dispositifs” operating in the apparently separate worlds of science and industry. The assertion here is that our experiences and perceptions of time are deeply imbricated in our information infrastructures. I further argue that these ideological charged times are not hegemonic; they merely describe a motivating managerial vision of a proximate future.
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 577-591
This article argues for the analysis of temporal concepts such as “age,” “century,” and “epoch,” “past,” “present,” and “future,” formed during the Enlightenment, as an approach to the study of the history of modern historiography. Starting from the basic distinction of “empty” and “embodied” time in Leibniz’s and Newton’s dispute of 1715 about the philosophical nature of time, it traces the episteme of the eighteenth century using the metaphor of a “time garden” for describing some basic features of enlightened historiography. Finally, the paper discusses the consequences of the increasing employment of concepts of embodied time for the future development of the historical sciences.
Amir Eshel, Futurity: Contemporary Literature and the Quest for the Past
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 592-602
In his recent book, Amir Eshel focuses on over thirty recent German-, Hebrew-, and English-language novels to develop a reading method—the “hermeneutics of futurity”—that would replace moralizing approaches to past traumas, including German guilt over the Holocaust and Israeli denial of Palestinian suffering. Futurity demonstrates how various narratives imagine a future liberated from denial, guilt, and thus traumatic repetition. In so doing Eshel emphasizes human agency to counter the “hermeneutics of suspicion” that has long dominated a great deal of literary theory, and focuses on how novelists construct human choices and their consequences. He covers two generations of German-language novels spanning the Adenauer era to the present, and two generations of Israeli writers reflecting on 1948 and later, 1967. In order to develop fully the concept of futurity he also writes on recent American and English novels, often with implicitly political themes.
The book succeeds in demonstrating the value of how various novelists read the past otherwise in order to reconstruct the present and future. At the same time, Eshel conceives human agency and “choice” so capaciously that the book often neglects the institutional constraints on agency that afflict victims of traumas in particular. His treatment of Martin Walser’s controversial fictionalized memoir is exemplary of this problem in an otherwise stimulating work.
Breaking up Time: Negotiating the Borders between Present, Past and Future, ed. Chris Lorenz and Berber Bevernage
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 603-615
This is an exceptionally sophisticated and wide-ranging book on historical time, the construction of the past, present, and future, and the problem of periodization. Its major thesis is that temporal divisions of history are produced by social actors, including historians, who break up time from their distinct temporal positions. The book inquires about the theoretical underpinning and historical constitution of temporal breaks: the premises sustaining notions of pastness, presentness, and futurity; the relations constructed by these notions between historiography and other fields of knowledge; the specific articulation of shifting and mutually competing temporalities both within and beyond European history; and the political implications of temporal divisions. Throughout the book the breaking up of time is studied as a fundamental political operation. To engage with temporal breaks, the authors contend, is to engage with the historian’s contemporary, to negotiate borders that act upon the present, including the border that safeguards the presumed autonomy of the time of history-writing.
Focusing especially on the temporality of European modernity, the book invites reflection on the politics of time as articulated through categories of historical totalization imposed on modernity’s others. But it also suggests that this imposition gave rise to acts of resistance indicating how historical time defies the analytical categories through which social actors seek to organize and control it. This dialectic of imposition and defiance is made evident through the comparative study of temporal concepts that replace one another, compete with one another in certain historical settings without any of them constituting a final historical representation. It is also traced in the continuing significance of suppressed or “failed” temporalities, which are nonetheless still capable of challenging and qualifying our insights into historical time. The book’s key contribution lies precisely in the attempt to intensify this challenge by translating the contradictory constitution of modern temporality into a language of self-critique.
Henricus Glareanus’s (1488–1563) Chronologia of the Ancient World: A Facsimile Edition of a Heavily Annotated Copy Held in Princeton University Library. Introduction and transcription by Anthony T. Grafton and Urs B. Leu
History and Theory 53, no. 4 (December 2014), 616-624
The recent facsimile edition of Henricus Glareanus’s Chronology of Livy, prepared by Anthony T. Grafton and Urs B. Leu, provides access to a primary source that is unique from the point of view of the history of science and scholarship and of the book and reading. The basis of the edition, a copy of Chronologia annotated by Glareanus’s disciple Gabriel Hummelberg II, now preserved at the Princeton University Library, serves scholars both as a point of departure for outlining hypotheses on the teaching methods of early modern humanists as well as the role of chronology in the humanist curriculum. My reading of their edition is based on three points. First, I put the primary source of their choice in a context that includes provincial early modern educational centers as I believe that their enterprise could clear the way for future narratives on forgotten scholars who dealt with the issues of technical chronology. Second, I show the importance of Grafton and Leu’s thesis on the procedures of transmission of teachers’ commentary, which, according to them, is documented by the Princeton copy of Chronologia. Third, I argue that the seemingly conservative decision to publish a paper edition of an annotated volume at the moment when state-of-the-art digital tools for such editions are being tailored through the alliance of scholars and IT specialists should open a discussion among historians of the book and reading, science, and education that would lead to the determination of standards for scholarly editions of libri annotati.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 309-330
The historian’s account of the past is strongly shaped by the future of the events narrated. The telos, that is, the vantage point from which the past is envisaged, influences the selection of the material as well as its arrangement. Although the telos is past for historians and readers, it is future for historical agents. The term “future past,” coined by Reinhart Koselleck to highlight the fact that the future was seen differently before the Sattelzeit, also lends itself to capturing this asymmetry and elucidating its ramifications for the writing of history. The first part of the essay elaborates on the notion of “future past”: besides considering its significance and pitfalls, I offset it against the perspectivity of historical knowledge and the concept of narrative “closure” (I). Then the works of two ancient historians, Polybius and Sallust, serve as test cases that illustrate the intricacies of “future past.” Neither has received much credit for intellectual sophistication in scholarship, and yet the different narrative strategies Polybius and Sallust deploy reveal profound reflections on the temporal dynamics of writing history (II). Although the issue of “future past” is particularly pertinent to the strongly narrative historiography of antiquity, the controversy about the end of the Roman Republic demonstrates that it also applies to the works of modern historians (III). Finally, I will argue that “future past” alerts us to an aspect of how we relate to the past that is in danger of being obliterated in the current debate on “presence” and history. The past is present in customs, relics, and rituals, but the historiographical construction of the past is predicated on a complex hermeneutical operation that involves the choice of a telos. The concept of “future past” also differs from post-structuralist theories through its emphasis on time. Retrospect calms the flow of time, but is unable to arrest it fully, as the openness of the past survives in the form of “future past” (IV).
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 331-347
In recent years the trend toward comparative histories, frequently read in terms of transnational studies, has produced some remarkably exciting work. The prospect of the comparative is gaining broader appeal, a development we should applaud but at the same time begin to examine in a critical fashion. This essay lays out some of the problems involved in comparative work and suggests ways in which we might profitably utilize these potential snares in productive ways.
Comparative history has the potential to operate as a “bridge-builder,” encouraging inventive thinking that moves scholars beyond the familiar terrain of their training. In this respect, it encourages original and innovative ways of approaching historical work. But there are lessons to be learned and problems to be faced in managing a complex scholarly enterprise of this kind. Comparative work runs the risk of reproducing and consolidating older models of universalist history that assume universal standards. It further runs the risk of assuming rather than historicizing the idea of the nation as a fixed point of historical reference rather than seeing the nation itself as a site for historical scrutiny. In this paper, my goal is to lay out these problems alongside the palpable rewards of comparative work, and then to suggest how we might turn such problems to our advantage.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 348-371
What is the problem that “epistemic virtues” seek to solve? This article argues that virtues, epistemic and otherwise, are the key characteristics of “scholarly personae,” that is, of ideal-typical models of what it takes to be a scholar. Different scholarly personae are characterized by different constellations of virtues and skills or, more precisely, by different constellations of commitments to goods (epistemic, moral, political, and so forth), the pursuit of which requires the exercise of certain virtues and skills. Expanding Hayden White’s notion of “historiographical styles” so as to encompass not only historians’ writings, but also their nontextual “doings,” the article argues that different styles of “being a historian”—a meticulous archival researcher, an inspired feminist scholar, or an outstanding undergraduate teacher—can be analyzed productively in terms of virtues and skills. Finally, the article claims that virtues and skills, in turn, are rooted in desires, which are shaped by the examples of others as well as by promises of reward. This makes the scholarly persona not merely a useful concept for distinguishing among different types of historians, but also a critical tool for analyzing why certain models of “being a historian” gain in popularity, whereas others become “old-fashioned.”
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 372-386
The intention of this essay is to offer a reading of John Dewey’s recently found manuscript (considered lost for decades), Unmodern Philosophy and Modern Philosophy, as a kind of philosophical history leading up to the formulation of the key problems to be addressed by the general framework of Dewey’s cultural naturalism. I argue, first, that cultural naturalism has direct implications for the way that we think about history, and that Dewey’s recently recovered manuscript reflects this in its conception of the purpose and mode of historical reconstruction. Second, the essay presents a synoptic overview of the historically emergent thought-conditions structuring, according to Dewey’s narrative, the possibilities of the philosophical discourse of modernity. In conclusion, I argue that cultural naturalism allows us to move beyond these problems by a radical revision of the terms in which we construe the idea of “persons.” Specifically, instead of thinking about persons in terms of embodied minds, we should start thinking about them as participants in histories, carving their individual paths through the world of events, with their existence being essentially both temporal and social. I also suggest that this view of persons allows us to outline a promising account of the notion of human freedom, couched in terms of historical social agency.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 387-405
This article intends to clarify what distinguishes the so-called new “politico-intellectual history” from the old “history of political ideas.” What differentiates the two has not been fully perceived even by some of the authors who initiated this transformation. One fundamental reason for this is that the transformation has not been a consistent process deriving from one single source, but is rather the result of converging developments emanating from three different sources (the Cambridge School, the German school of conceptual history or Begriffsgeschichte, and French politico-conceptual history). This article proposes that the development of a new theoretical horizon that effectively leads us beyond the frameworks of the old history of political ideas demands that we overcome the insularity of these traditions and combine their respective contributions. The result of this combination is an approach to politico-intellectual history that is not completely coincident with any of the three schools. What I will call a history of political languages entails a specific perspective on the temporality of discourses; this involves a view of why the meaning of concepts changes over time, and is the source of the contingency that stains political languages.
Foundational Pasts: The Holocaust as Historical Understanding. By Alon Confino. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2012. Pp. xi, 180.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 406-418
Alon Confino has issued a desideratum to other historians that they should bring questions and insights from cultural history to bear on the study of the Holocaust. Taking the work of Saul Friedländer as his point of departure, Confino nonetheless sets out on a path different from Friedländer’s. He turns away from the goal of “integrated history” and instead seeks to investigate the realm of German culture, understood as encompassing much more than just Nazi ideology. By analyzing how the Holocaust has come to be perceived as unprecedented, as a rupture in human history, and furthermore by treating Jewish victims’ sense of disbelief as an artifact of the past, one that has continued to inform unduly the historical understanding of the Holocaust up to the present day, historians will be able to account anew for what made the persecution and extermination of Jews imaginable and thus possible. With Confino’s approach, a major historiographical question resurfaces, however: namely, what place an analysis of non-Germans should occupy in the history of the Holocaust, and in particular what place should be accorded to Jewish voices? This essay argues that we cannot make sense of why Germans supported and carried out the Holocaust without also considering Jewish contemporaneous perspectives and imaginings.
Genealogy as Critique: Foucault and the Problems of Modernity. By Colin Koopman. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2013. Pp. xii, 348.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 419-427
Colin Koopman’s excellent Genealogy as Critique argues that Michel Foucault’s genealogies—and, in fact, his archaeologies—should be read as historical accounts of the emergence of particular “problematizations.” The idea of a problematization, which Foucault introduces late in his career, has two sides. First, there is the idea that the situation whose emergence a genealogy traces is problematic in the sense of being fraught or dangerous. Second, by tracing the genealogy, Foucault problematizes the situation itself, showing how it calls for attention. Koopman argues that Foucault’s genealogies are not themselves normative, but they instead outline situations or practices in a way that allows for normative investigation and political intervention. What is required, then, are normative approaches that complement Foucault’s genealogies. Koopman argues that Foucault’s own late discussions of self-transformation are inadequate to fully accomplish the task; they need to be complemented by recourse to Deweyan reconstruction or Habermasian normative reflection. However, and in turn, such reflection cannot be had on an absolutist ground but rather must be seen as historically contingent, universalizing rather than universalist in Koopman’s vocabulary. I argue that there are several reasons to think that the strong separation between genealogy and normative posited by Koopman may be too strict. Foucault’s rhetoric, his choice of certain problematizations, and Koopman’s own commitments to problematizations as requiring attention all seem to point toward a more intimate, although admittedly implicit, relation between genealogy and normative positions in Foucault’s work.
Writing History in the Age of Biomedicine. By Roger Cooter with Claudia Stein. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2013. Pp. xiv, 350.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 428-434
Roger Cooter is concerned about the survival of historiography under the pressures of neoliberal economics and the entertainment industry. His and Claudia Stein’s book is a welcome call for “critical history,” which is aware of own fundamental intellectual categories. Cooter emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and political contextualization of all knowledge-production. However, although reflection is undoubtedly a virtue, it is not clear whether historiography is under such a severe threat. It is also necessary to ask where the limits of contextualization lie. It is doubtful whether a fully localized and contextualized study removed of all “presentist” categories and language is possible. In addition, one should avoid combining antirealism about natural sciences in the name of anti-Whiggism with realism about historical knowledge in attempts to provide contextualized accounts of the past. What is needed above all is the hermeneutical dialogue between the language of past agents and the language of present actors.
Secular Religion: A Polemic against the Misinterpretation of Modern Social Philosophy, Science and Politics as “New Religions.” By Hans Kelsen. Dordrecht: Springer, 2012. Pp. 307.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 435-450
This article reviews Hans Kelsen’s mysterious and recently published last book, contextualizing it with reference to the little known dialogue between Kelsen and Eric Voegelin. The confrontation between Kelsen and Voegelin, two of the most illustrious émigré scholars who found a new home in America, is important to revisit because it touches upon several axes of debate of crucial importance to postwar intellectual history: the religion–secularity debate, the positivist–antipositivist debates, and the controversy that also led to the famous Voegelin–Arendt debate: how to read the horrors of totalitarianism into a historical trajectory of modernity. Although the Kelsen–Voegelin exchange ended in failure and bitterness, its substance goes to the heart of modern intellectual history.
Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History (The Menahem Stern Jerusalem Lectures). By Richard Evans. Waltham, MA: Brandeis University, 2014. Pp. 176.
History and Theory 53, no. 3 (October 2014), 451-467
Richard Evans’s new book, Altered Pasts, offers a perceptive but flawed critique of the field of counterfactual history. The author provides a useful historical survey of the field’s recent rise to prominence and intelligently analyzes its respective strengths and weaknesses. His overall assessment of the field is quite skeptical, however. Evans cites many reasons for his skepticism, but his overall critique can be summarized in three words: plausibility, politicization, and popularity. Evans faults works of counterfactual history for their frequently implausible narratives, their promotion of political agendas, and their distressing degree of popularity. In advancing his critique, Evans makes many valid observations that call attention to important deficiencies in the field. But his view is a partial one that neglects countervailing evidence and never penetrates to the heart of why the field has left the margins for the mainstream. Evans’s study provides a useful introduction to an understudied topic, but further research—ideally of a less partisan nature—is required for us to better understand counterfactual history’s increasing appeal.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 1-23
This paper assesses Hayden White’s Metahistory through the test of reflexivity; that is, it asks whether the book’s “general theory of the structure of that mode of thought which is called ‘historical’” applies, as it should, to its own history of nineteenth-century “historical consciousness.” Most components of the theoretical apparatus—the various concepts invoked in the “theory of the historical work” and in the “theory of tropes”—fail the reflexivity test; further, it emerges that those same components are also seriously flawed on other grounds. The sole and partial exception is the concept of emplotment, which passes the reflexivity test, albeit with qualifications, but more particularly has the virtue of illuminating the traditional history of history against which Metahistory’s own story was pitched; and this result provides an ironic and unexpected vindication of Metahistory’s underlying vision. Thus the book’s fundamental insight—that the form of historical writing is epistemologically consequential—can be retained, even though its two theories should now be set aside.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 24-44
This essay takes up the call for a “third phase” in memory studies and makes theoretical and methodological suggestions for its further development. Starting from an understanding of memory that centers on memory’s temporality, its relation to language, and its quality as a social action, the essay puts forward the concept of “entangled memory.” On a theoretical level, it brings to the fore the entangledness of acts of remembering. In a synchronic perspective, memory’s entangledness is presented as twofold. Every act of remembering inscribes an individual in multiple social frames. This polyphony entails the simultaneous existence of concurrent interpretations of the past. In a diachronic perspective, memory is entangled in the dynamic relation between single acts of remembering and changing mnemonic patterns. Memory scholars therefore uncover boundless cross-referential configurations. Wishing to enhance the dialogue between the theoretical and the empirical parts of memory studies, we propose four devices that serve as a heuristic in the study of memory’s entanglement: chronology against time, conflict, generations, and self-reflexivity. Current debates on European memory permit us to explore the possible benefits that the concept of entangled memory carries for memory studies.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 45-68
This article is about the problem of the unity of history as seen through the writings of Karl Löwith. By “unity of history” I understand the notion that all history constitutes one and only one range of kinds of objects and/or one field of knowledge. The article argues that the problem of the unity of history—though often neglected as a matter of mere argumentative infrastructure—is central to a number of wider problems, most prominently the possibility of a plural understanding of historicity and the possibility of ultimately avoiding a unified historical teleology. The article revisits Löwith’s writings and proposes a variety of novel interpretations with the aim of evincing the centrality, and of exploring diverse aspects, of the problematic of the unity of history. This problematic is shown to have informed Löwith’s work on the secularization thesis as well as his debate with Hans Blumenberg. The foundations of Löwith’s discussion of the problem are pursued across his ambivalent critique and appropriation of Heidegger’s model of an ontology of historicity as marked by inevitable internal conflict and thus disunity. The paper reconstructs the manner in which, after the Second World War, Löwith’s philosophy of history sought to salvage basic traits of the Heideggerian model when it tried to establish the possibility of plural historicity from a notion of the natural cosmos. It is demonstrated that the motives for this salvage operation ultimately extended beyond the problem of Löwith’s reception of Heidegger and concerned the possibility of continuing any debate on the philosophy of history.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 69-78Emotions in History: Lost and Found by Ute Frevert is a lively introduction to some of the issues that historians must address when writing about emotions. Emotions in History notes some of the uses emotions have had in both public and private life, and it charts the changing fate of several emotions—particularly acedia, honor, and compassion—that have been either “lost” or “found” over time. Nevertheless, it suffers from a notion of modernity that obscures rather than clarifies. Making “modernity” the cause of changes in emotional ideas, comportment, and feeling, it cuts today’s society off from its earlier roots and fails to see the continuities not only in emotions themselves but also in the mechanisms by which emotions have changed over time. Frevert’s assumption that only the modern world has been interested in emotions is belied by eloquent learned writings on the topic in the medieval period (though not using the term “emotions”). Further, modernity is not alone in having effective mechanisms by which ideal standards of emotions and their expression are transmitted to a larger public.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 79-93
This article considers A. Azfar Moin, The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam, in the light of theories of sacred kingship and religious change. Although Muslim kingship has tended to be presented as an essentially secular institution, Moin is able to show how deeply divine images and understandings shaped kingship in both the Safavid and Mughal empires, which were bound together by mutual influence and competition. The divine matrix of kingship was facilitated by the influence of preeminent Sufism, Mongol universalism, millenarian technologies and dreams, and Persian tradition. The article suggests that the methodological approach adopted here, resembling l’histoire des mentalités, shows how our analyses of sacred kingship can be obscured by a focus on canonical and prescriptive texts. Taking up the theme of transgression, it compares Moin’s work with recent anthropological reflections on the symbolism of the stranger-king. The article also uses Moin’s work to indicate the problems with the critical dismissal of “legitimacy” as an indispensable (though insufficient) analytical tool. The subject matter is further placed within an overarching conceptualization of global religious diversity based on the tension between transcendentalist vs. immanentist impulses. In that light the reassertion of “transcendentalist” religiosity in the guise of an orthodox push-back against the enchanted cultural world re-imagined by Moin only appears in greater need of explanation. Avenues of comparative reflection are also opened up with Christian monarchy, which was both less profoundly “immanentized” in the early modern era and less successful at exporting itself in areas outside of imperial influence. The article concludes by considering the implications for theories of a global early modernity, and a comparison with Andre Wink’s quite different characterization of Akbar as a secular-minded rationalist.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 94-104
Among most historians of Africa, and others in the humanities concerned with Africa, it has been almost axiomatic that writing and reading arrived in Africa and spread with the coming of European colonialism, especially through the agency of Christian missionaries. Although missionaries did indeed establish schools and introduce various kinds of literacy, there is a much longer history of the book in various parts of the continent. This essay looks at some of the recent work that focuses on the use of the Arabic script in Africa. Although the field of “Islam in Africa” has framed this work, it is necessary to see the uses of this literacy within the frame of the history of the book and related fields. The works discussed are rich in content and analysis and provide the opening for new initiatives on the content of the literacy and the methods of teaching and reading, but also the materiality of the book and the formation of the archive.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 105-118
This essay reviews two books in the French Que Sais-je? series by Charles-Olivier Carbonell in 1981 and by Nicolas Offenstadt in 2011 on the topic of historiography. Offenstadt‘s volume is intended to bring Carbonell‘s up to date, but goes in very different directions. There is general agreement among historians that a fundamental reorientation has taken place in historical thought and writing in the past half century, about which quite a bit has been written in recent years in the West, including in Latin America, East Asia, and India. But this is not the theme of either of these volumes. Carbonell tells the history of history from the ancient Greeks to the twentieth-century Annales; Offenstadt is not interested in examining major trends in historiography as much of the historiographical literature has done, but in analyzing the changes that the key concepts that guide contemporary historical studies have undergone. For Carbonell‘s chronological narrative of the history of historical writing, theory has no place; for Offenstadt, who proceeds analytically, history and theory are inseparable. He deals specifically with changes in conceptions of historical time, of the role of documents, of the place of history within the social sciences, of the centrality of narrative, and finally of historical memory.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 119-129
Continuing debates over the role of interpretation in history and social science have recently been linked to a program to develop a cultural sociology, as distinct from a sociology of culture. Apart from a defense of the importance of culture and meaning, this effort aims to develop a form of “interpretive explanation,” though not simply by following Max Weber’s similar project from nearly one hundred years ago. The book under review looks at different “epistemic modes” that aim to produce social knowledge, in order to show how interpretive explanation can combine the best of all the modes. Unfortunately, the book is beset by numerous theoretical problems, including a problematical understanding of the relations of fact and theory, hasty criticisms of examples of the different modes, and a reliance on metaphors that makes it impossible to do justice to the issues. The project of what I would call a “thick explanation” is worthwhile, but will have to be pursued in a more nuanced and careful way.
History and Theory 53, no. 1 (February 2014), 130-149
Gradual changes in the way historians select, interpret, and represent aspects of the past are related to equally or perhaps more gradual changes in museum practice. Edited collections on this subject reflect the state of both disciplines and offer an opportunity to evaluate trends, assess progress, and forecast the future. The collection examined in this review essay focuses on the idea of sharing historical authority: How far have we come? What methods have been used? What is the value of collaborative effort? Have technological developments, including digital media and the “participatory Web,” really enabled more inclusive participation? The analysis of the collection includes specific attention to the text itself as an exhibitionary object and emphasizes the effects of its unusual design elements, deictic signals, and heterogeneous genres—particularly the case studies and “thought pieces” that form a significant part of the collection. Other focal points include: the interrogative mood of the text and its call for active reading; explicit historical, social, and disciplinary contexts; and precursor texts that have addressed similar subject matter.
Does History Need Animals?
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 1-12
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 13-28
This article takes as its point of departure a small piece of evidence: a single-line entry in a seventeenth-century Essex Sessions Roll about the theft of milk. This fragment of the legal archive and the world it offers us a glimpse of are used to explore what it might mean to take seriously the presence of animals as historical actors. The article also—and inseparably—asks us to think about the nature of that being called the human that so frequently goes without comment in historical (as in other humanities) scholarship. Using work from historiography, sensory history, social history, anthropology, and contemporary animal science, the article proposes that introducing animals as actors and not just as objects into historical work will not only broaden and deepen what we might know about the past, it will also challenge some assumptions as to what the focus of our discipline might be.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 29-44
Some scientists who study animals have emphasized the need to focus on the “point of view” of the animals they are studying. This methodological shift has led to animals being credited with much more agency than is warranted. However, as critics suggest, on the one hand, the “perspective” of another being rests mostly upon “sympathetic projection,” and may be difficult to apply to unfamiliar beings, such as bees or even flowers. On the other hand, the very notion of agency still conveys its classic understanding as intentional, rational, and premeditated, and is still embedded in humanist and Christian conceptions of human exceptionalism. This paper seeks, in the first part, to investigate the practical link between these two notions and the problems they raise. In the second part, following the work of two historians of science who have revisited Darwin’s studies of orchids and their pollinators, it will observe a shift in the meaning of the concept of agency. Indeed, creatures may appear as “secret agents” as long as we adopt a conventional definition of agency based on subjective experience and autonomous intention. However, when reframed in the terms of “agencement”—an assemblage that produces “agentivity”—agency seems to be much more extensively shared in the living world. We will then explore some of the concrete situations in which these agencements are manifested, and through which creatures of different species become, one for another and one with another, companion-agents.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 45-67
This article surveys recent historical writings on animals. Its principal concerns are the manner in which historians grant agency to animals and how that agency functions in historical narration. The article examines the histories of animals in Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and North America in order to tease out the similarities and differences of human experiences with other animals. The foundational premise of the article is that humans are animals, sometimes even a meaty prey species, and that, as such, they are not external to nature or, ultimately, different from other animals in this regard. Humans can have violently intimate relationships with other creatures, an intimacy that defines much of global human history. Animals permeate our history and we theirs: tug at the threads and our stories, woven as they are into the same tightly knit tapestry, will not disentwine. The debate regarding whether humans are anomalous and outside nature or separate from other animals is complicated when the stomach enzymes from an animal, whether wolf or crocodile, digest a human being. Therefore, the cultural-constructionist arguments regarding “the animal”—that our understanding of nonhuman animals is entirely culturally generated—need to be viewed as overly simplistic. My contention is that our reluctance to join the rest of the animal kingdom on its terms, on more natural terms, exposes a lingering devotion to human “exceptionalism,” one that is inherent in the humanities and social sciences.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 68-90
This paper focuses on the concept of “animal individuals” and puts forward a nominalistic approach. Nominalism is an ontological thesis (only individuals exist), but also an epistemological claim: that our “nouns” are practical tools for a quick dispatch of things, but do not correspond to anything real. Hence for a consistent nominalist, “animals” do not exist, except as a powerful fiction. First, we show that the word “animal” commits what we call (after Plato) the “fallacy of the crane”: it encompasses a huge range of living entities that have only one thing in common: they are not humans. Differences between our term “animal” and the ancient Greek “zoon” also show the fluctuating boundaries of “animality.” Besides, our ways of speaking systematically deny individuality to nonhuman animals.
The philosophical meaning of the term “individual” implies a genuine dimension of artistic singularity and a political claim for emancipation. Portraits of apes are striking instances of such individuality, captured by photography, as is art produced by particular animals. Methodologically, this leads also to the collection of anecdotes and a focus on animal biographies. The eighteenth-century controversy between Buffon and Condillac helps us understand what is at stake in the tension between species and individuals. Buffon claims that each nonhuman animal species can be represented by a “specimen,” whereas Condillac shows that animal individuals feel like us and that their nature is impenetrable to us. Finally, a focus on individuals is not only a way to renew or extend historical methods. Biologists are also increasingly concerned with individuals. They develop tools to distinguish individuals from one another: “animal bertillonage” for morphology. They question standard norms of behavior and preferences. This emphasis on animal individuality has not only theoretical but also ethical and legal consequences.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 91-108
This essay explores a nineteenth-century debate over the linguistic capacity of animals in order to consider the links among language, reason, and history. Taking the American animal-protection movement as a point of departure, I show how protectionists, linguists, anthropologists, and advocates of deaf education were divided about the origins and nature of language. Was language a product of the soul and thus unique to humans, or was it a function of the body, a complex form of the corporeal expressions that humans and animals shared? Was language divine or natural? The answers that different activists and intellectuals gave to such questions shaped their view of the relationship of humans to animals and the inclusion of the latter in the moral and political community. I suggest that such debates are helpful to historians since the possession of language—and its traces in the written word—has traditionally been used to divide prehistory and natural history from history proper. If we are to include animals in “history,” we must rethink the relationship of the discipline to language.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 109-127
This article explores how far animals are or are not endowed with a sense of history. The century-long history of lion–human interaction in the lions’ last habitat in Asia—in India’s Gir Forest, Gujarat State—is the focal point of analysis. In turn, there have been longer-term shifts since ancient and medieval times. Aside from two specific phases of breakdown, Gir’s lions rarely attack people. To comprehend why this is so, both the lions and humans need to be seen as products of history. Although it is going too far to endow the lions with historical consciousness, Gir’s lions clearly do have memory of memories. Over a half-century since hunting ceased, living on a mix of domestic livestock and wild prey, they now co-inhabit not only the forest but a much larger territory in close proximity to resident people. Their case calls for rethinking both animal and human histories to allow for associate species that adapt to human presence, and are capable of memory.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 128-145
Drawing on posthumanist theories from geography, anthropology, and science and technology studies (STS), this article argues that agency is shared unevenly between humans and nonhumans. It proposes that conceptualizing animals as agents allows them to enter history as active beings rather than static objects. Agency has become a key concept within history, especially since the rise of the “new” social history. But many historians treat agency as a uniquely human attribute, arguing that animals lack the cognitive abilities, self-awareness, and intentionality to be agents. This article argues that human levels of intentionality are not a precondition of agency. Furthermore, it draws on research into canine psychology to propose that dogs display some degree of intentionality and self-directed action. The aim is not to turn dogs, or any other animals, into human-style agents nor to suggest that they display the same levels of skill, intentionality, and intelligence as humans. Instead, the objective is to show how dogs are purposeful and capable agents in their own way and to explore how they interact with human agents. The article particularly considers the agency of militarized dogs, especially those on the Western Front (1914–1918), to suggest how historians can use primary sources to uncover how individuals in the past have treated dogs as capable creatures and to capture some sense of dogs’ embodied and purposeful agency.
History and Theory 52, no. 4 (December 2013), 146-167
Historians need to understand the nature of historical agency and how animals relate to this central if contested historiographical concern. Focusing on the specific context of the Napoleonic Wars and in particular the Duke of Wellington and his horse Copenhagen, I show why agency is a continuum, not limited to the complex and intentional acts of a rational man, for instance a field marshal, but extending to basic actions, group actions, and less self-conscious actors, for instance a horse. Therefore, agency can include animals. Any action, however, must be placed into a context of reasons or understandings, the “pertinent context.” The place of animals as agents will naturally vary across historical time in great part depending on prevalent contemporary cultural assumptions. In some periods animals have operated as difficult-to-discern “secret agents.” I stress the variable and fluid notions of agency that have emerged in posthumanistic and actor network theoretical contexts. And I develop the idea of special associations—what I call unities—in which especially close, disciplined actors are produced, such as the skilled horse-and-rider of the nineteenth century. Ultimately, historical agency is likely always to involve human beings, but there is also space for animals to act with people.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 305-318
This introduction places the forum contributions in the wider context of the “spatial turn” within the humanities and social sciences. Following a survey of the historical trajectories of the field, a review of impulses from different disciplines, and a sketch of general developments over the last few decades, the editors exemplify key approaches, methods, and conceptual advances with reference to gender studies. The focus then turns to the structure, main themes, and specific contents of this collection, which features both case studies and theoretical reflections. In conclusion, the essay underlines the significance and further potential of the “spatial turn.”
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 319-343
In First World War Britain, women’s ambition to perform noncombatant duties for the military faced considerable public opposition. Nevertheless, by late 1916 up to 10,000 members of the female volunteer corps were working for the army, laying the foundation for some 90,000 auxiliaries of the official Women’s Services, who filled support positions in the armed forces in the second half of the war. This essay focuses on the public debate in which the volunteers overcame their critics to understand how they obtained sufficient popular consent for their martial work. I explain the process in terms of shifting hegemonic understandings of space. As critics’ arguments in the debate indicate, the gender attribution of war participation was organized and represented spatially, assigning men to the warlike “front” as warriors and women to the peaceful “home” as civilians. To redefine the meaning of these gendered wartime spaces, women volunteers deployed rival spatial discourses and practices in their campaign for martial employment. The essay explores the progress of these competing definitions through feminist and spatial theories, including gender performativity, discursively constructed and constructive spaces, and heterotopias. I argue that the upheaval caused by the war in gender and spatial norms undermined absolute conceptualizations of space with dichotomous binary areas on which critics drew for their arguments and reinforced more recent, relative spatialities, including the cultural construction of militarized heterotopic sites in between and paralleling both “home” and “front” for soldiers in training or recovery. The volunteers’ efforts to gain access to military employment both contributed to and were supported by this shift. Heterotopic sites offered ideal discursive locations for constructing the new gender role of auxiliary soldiering through the performance of martial training and work, and competing spatial definitions provided arguments through which they could justify their activities to both critics and supporters.
AMANDA J. FLATHER
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 344-360
Much has been written about the history of the work of men and women in the premodern past. It is now generally acknowledged that early modern ideological assumptions about a strict division of work and space between men and productive work outside the house on the one hand, and women and reproduction and consumption inside the house, on the other, bore little relation to reality. Household work strategies, out of necessity, were diverse. Yet what this spatial complexity meant in particular households on a day-to-day basis and its consequences for gender relationships is less clear and has received relatively little historical attention. The aim of this paper is to add to our knowledge through a case study of the way that men and women used and organized space for work in the county of Essex during the “long seventeenth century.” Drawing on critiques of the concept of “separate spheres” and the models of economic change to which it relates, together with local/micro historical methods, it places evidence within an appropriate regional context to argue that spatial patterns were enormously varied in early modern England and a number of factors—time, place, occupation, and status, as well as gender—determined them. Understanding of the dynamic, complex, uneven purchase of patriarchy upon the organization, imagination, and experience of space has important implications for approaches to gender relations in early modern England. It raises additional doubts about the utility of the separate spheres analogy, and particularly the use of binary oppositions of male/female and public/private, to describe gender relations and their changes in this period and shows that a deeper understanding demands more research into the local contexts in which the gendered division and meaning of work was negotiated.
WILLEM DE BLÉCOURT
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 361-379
This article considers the importance of a spatial dimension for witchcraft research, which has so far been largely neglected. In twentieth-century Europe people in certain regions still considered their world in terms of witchcraft; they attributed misfortune to bewitchments and usually blamed their neighbors. Here a part of Flemish-speaking Belgium is investigated with the help of legend texts collected in the 1960s. The witchcraft discourse that informed these texts did not just contain formulations of space; sometimes it also determined how people negotiated space. In this part of Flanders, witchcraft was embedded in Roman Catholicism; monasteries were the favored destinations of all those who considered themselves or their family members bewitched. In order to find cures for bewitchments people undertook hazardous journeys of considerable distance and found their efforts hindered by the witch they sought to counteract. The measures against evil influences that they were given were meant to consolidate the boundaries between their own (private) space and the (outside) space where witches roamed. Bewitchments were generally blamed on women. In the contemporary patriarchal social order, both public and domestic spaces were nearly always under men’s control. This is why bewitchment was caused less by transgressions of male-defined boundaries than by infringements of bodily spaces such as by eying or touching somebody else’s children. This suggests a different approach to female space based on notions of proximity.
MATTHEW H. JOHNSON
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 380-399
The aim of this article is to review and reconsider what scholars, including historians, archaeologists, and those in other disciplines, are trying to get at when they attempt a “social interpretation” of English late medieval domestic buildings. I focus on the definition and interpretation of “meaning,” and I examine critically a series of concepts routinely deployed in social interpretations in the past, including my own work, such as type, zeitgeist, and intention. I argue that some of these concepts and interpretive moves are problematic and rather than aiding in our understanding, raise further questions in their turn about how buildings were lived in and understood by their medieval inhabitants. I argue for a shift in language and jargon away from “planning” and “meaning” to that of “lived experience.” I explore such a possible shift with reference to different understandings of and debates over the late medieval castle of Bodiam in southeastern England. Such a shift from meaning to lived experience raises fresh challenges for the development and empirical evaluation of interdisciplinary research on medieval buildings, but it also raises fresh possibilities and insights.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 400-419
Much fuss has been made of the “spatial turn” in recent years, across a range of disciplines. It is hard to know if the attention has been warranted. A confusion of terms has been used—such as space, place, spatiality, location—and each has signified a cluster of often contradictory and confusing meanings. This phenomenon is common to a range of disciplines in the humanities. This means, first, that it is not always easy to recognize what (if anything) is being discussed under the rubric of space, and second, that over-extended uses of the cultural turn have stymied meaningful engagement with (or even a language of) materiality in discussions of space. This article shows how materiality has been marginalized both by a casual vocabulary and a vigorous a priori epistemological holism on the part of scholars, and how the spatial turn has been too closely linked to the cultural turn to allow it to develop its fullest explanatory potential. It demonstrates how historians might profitably theorize the significance of place and space in their work (borrowing techniques from geographers and anthropologists, and referring to the phenomenological tradition), and sets out some challenges for using space more effectively in explanatory systems. Inspired by environmental history, sociology, and science and technology studies, I propose a way of establishing space as different from conventional historical handling of materiality, and end by identifying some methodological problems that need to be solved if we are to proceed on a surer footing.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 420-432
This article discusses from a specifically German point of view the “spatial turn” in history and the approaches of this forum. Many recent interventions have suggested that “space” (as opposed to “time”) was for many years a marginalized category in the German historiographical debate because of the ideological contamination of the category “space” by the Nazis. In the context of the vivid lively “local” or “regional” history practiced in Germany, however, “space” has always played an important role. The debates around the spatial turn nevertheless provide the opportunity for deliberate reconceptualization. This comment proposes a relational understanding of “space” as the core of the new approach and identifies some central elements and terms for it: the differentiation of “spaces,” “places,” and “locations”; movement in space; the division of space in the form of boundaries; finally, the ordering and classification of space in the form of written or visual representations.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 433-450
The recent death of Eric Hobsbawm provides a fitting occasion to take stock of the entire trajectory of his work. Taking his final book, How to Change the World, as its starting point, this essay considers Hobsbawm’s effort to change the way history was written. It divides his career into three main phases: 1) during the 1940s and 50s when he served his apprenticeship and emerged as a leading labor historian of modern Britain. Working in conjunction with colleagues in the Communist Party Historian’s group, Hobsbawm helped to raise Marxist history to academic respectability; 2) during the 1960s and 70s, Hobsbawm reached the apogee of his career, publishing the first two volumes of his synoptic history of modern capitalism, as well a multitude of more specialized and critical works. No longer just one among a group of Marxist scholars, he—along with E. P. Thompson—became one of the most famous and influential historians in the world. 3) For Hobsbawm, as for other Marxists, the 1980s and 1990s were a time of crisis, when Marxism was destabilized and communism collapsed. Ironically, this essay argues, it was during this challenging period that Hobsbawm’s most influential work appeared—most notably, his studies of modern nationalism and his analysis of the “invention of tradition.” Whereas the early Hobsbawm had worked to bring Marxist history into the academy, the later Hobsbawm (perhaps inadvertently) showed how the academy could absorb analytical elements initially formulated in a Marxist framework by translating them into non-Marxist terms. Whatever one thinks of Hobsbawm’s intellectual legacy, one must acknowledge his status as a polymathic giant who wrote global history that was at once theoretically grounded, publicly accessible, and historiographically consequential.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 451-461
This book examines Greek engagements with the past as articulations of memory formulated against the contingency of chance associated with temporality. Based on a phenomenological understanding of temporality, it identifies four memorializing strategies: continuity (tradition), regularity (exemplarity), development, and acceptance of chance. This framework serves in pursuing a twofold aim: to reconstruct the literary field of memory in fifth-century bce Greece; and to interpret Greek historiography as a memorializing mode. The key contention advanced by this approach is that acts of memory entailed an “idea of history” that was articulated not only in historiography, but also in epinician poetry, elegy, tragedy, and oratory. The book offers a rich account of poetic conventions and contexts through which each of these genres counterbalanced contingency through the use of exemplary and traditional modes of memory. This fine analysis highlights the grip of the present on the past as a significant feature of both historiographical and nonhistoriographical genres.
The essay argues that this work fills a disciplinary gap by extending the reflection on memory to a new period, Greek antiquity. The retrospective positioning of this period at the outset of Western historical thought brings Grethlein’s investigation to the center of debates about memory, temporality, and the meaning history. In engaging with the book’s argument, the essay suggests that historiographical memory emerged in Greece not as a first-order encounter with time, but as a second-order encounter with forgetting. This confrontation marked a certain separation of historiography from other memorializing genres. Whereas poetic and rhetorical memories were posited against contingency, historiography sought to retrieve those aspects of the past that may otherwise have been irretrievably lost and forgotten. In doing so, it formulated the historiographical imperative as a negation of forgetting that problematized the truth-value of memory and the very act of remembering the past.
History and Theory 52, no. 3 (October 2013), 462-472
By rejecting the old divide between prehistory and history, the group of scholars behind Deep History opens a new window on the problem of the unity and diversity of human experience over the very long run. Their use of kinship metaphors suggests not only a link between modern society and the deep past, but also perhaps a way to imagine the common legacy of the human species. But what emerges from Deep History is hardly a sunny story about the distant origins of social justice and ecological harmony. The other central metaphor of the book—the fractal—uncovers the slow prelude to the Anthropocene. Rather than seeing a sharp break in the Industrial Revolution from an “organic” to a fossil fuel-burning economy, these scholars stress the history of environmental destruction that has accompanied human expansion. My critical reading presents an alternative understanding of deep history as an arena for a new politics of species. Here a cornucopian understanding of human adaptation clashes with a new pessimism about the climatic fragility of Neolithic civilization.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 149-170
Addressing the recent call to rethink history as a form of presence, the essay works toward a recovery of a space in which such presence of history is encoded. I argue that history as a form of active perception is akin to virtual witnessing of the past in the moment of our encounter with historical artifacts, be they texts, photographs, or buildings.
To this end, I engage with the conceptual and material aspects of historical perception, deriving a model of history as “inhabited ruins,” the way it emerges together with historical consciousness and finds an especially dynamic expression in Georg Simmel’s philosophy of culture. Throughout, I work with the notion of distance and trans-dimensional presence as the forces that shape and reshape historical awareness.
Ruins, intimately connected to the modern historical imagination, are approached not as sites of commemoration or nostalgia, but as spaces of active exchange between presence and disappearance. As such, they are taken to be the models for the transitive character of history itself, blurring the division between perception and thought. In other words, ruins are taken as structures that evoke and summon the past to an encounter with contemporary reality—a type of co-appearance that opens the possibility of virtually witnessing the past. I conclude that the logic of “inhabited ruins” constitutes the event-horizon of modern identity, always placing history right at the threshold of fragmentation.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 171-193
This essay discusses the role of the notions of reference, truth, and meaning in historical representation. Four major claims will be argued. First, conditional for all meaningful discussion of historical representation is that one radically discards from one’s mind the paradigm of the true statement and all the epistemological and ontological problems occasioned by it. Second, representation is not a two-place, but a three-place operator: in representation a represented reality (1) is represented by a representation (2) focusing on certain aspects of represented reality (3). Third, applying the notions of reference, truth, and meaning to historical representations compels us to give them a content basically different from the ones they have in contemporary philosophy of language and science. Fourth, it will be shown that in (historical) representation, meaning precedes truth—and not the other way around as in most of contemporary philosophy of language.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 194-213
In this paper I reflect critically on the concept of pragmatism as it is used in Ottoman historiography. Pragmatism has gained increasing currency over the last ten to fifteen years as one of the defining features of the Ottoman polity. I argue that unless it is properly defined from a theoretical-philosophical perspective, and carefully contextualized from a historical perspective, pragmatism cannot be used as an explanatory or comparative category. When used as a framework of explanation for historical change, pragmatism blurs more than it clarifies an essential aspect of the Ottoman polity that it seeks to define, namely, the political. It is essential to reflect on the difference between the political and politics because whereas the political refers to the configuration of the power relations that organize a society as a legitimate entity, politics refers to the strategies, practices, institutions, or discourses whose purpose is to construct and retain hegemony within a polity. Through an analysis of the concept of pragmatism in Ottoman historiography, I show that for most proponents of Ottoman pragmatism, pragmatism pertains to politics rather than to the political. From a perspective rigorously confined to political theory, I argue that much like the discourse of modern tolerance, pragmatism in Ottoman historiography posits a problematic periodization, relegates the political to the background, and depoliticizes essential power relations.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 214-245
This article analyzes the compound of the categories of secularization and reoccupation in its variations from Hans Blumenberg’s philosophy to Carl Schmitt’s political theory and, ultimately, to Reinhart Koselleck’s conceptual history. By revisiting the debate between Blumenberg and Schmitt on secularization and political theology with regard to the political-theoretical aspects of secularization and the methodological aspects of reoccupation, I will provide conceptual tools that illuminate the partly tension-ridden elements at play in Koselleck’s theorizing of modernity, history, and concepts. For Schmitt, secularization is inherently related to the question of political conflict, and, correspondingly, he attempts to discredit Blumenberg’s criticism of secularization as an indirectly aggressive, and thereby hypocritical, attempt to escape the political. To this end, I argue, Schmitt appropriates Blumenberg’s concept of “reoccupation” and uses it alternately in the three distinct senses of “absorption,” “reappropriation,” and “revaluation.” Schmitt’s famous thesis of political concepts as secularized theological concepts contains an unmistakable methodological element and a research program. The analysis therefore shows the relevance of the Blumenberg/Schmitt debate for the mostly tacit dialogue between Blumenberg and Koselleck. I scrutinize Koselleck’s understanding of secularization from his early Schmittian and Löwithian theory of modernity to his later essays on temporalization of history and concepts. Despite Blumenberg’s criticism, Koselleck holds onto the category of secularization throughout, but gradually relativizes it into a research hypothesis among others. Simultaneously, Koselleck formalizes, alongside other elements, the Schmittian account of reoccupation into his method of conceptual analysis and uses the term in the same three senses—thus making “reoccupation” conceptually compatible with “secularization,” despite the former notion’s initial critical function in Blumenberg’s theory. The examination highlights a Schmittian residue that accounts for Koselleck’s reserved attitude toward Blumenberg’s metaphorology, regardless of a significant methodological overlap.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 246-264
Condorcet’s classical Enlightenment statement of human progress became an essential element of nineteenth- and twentieth-century consciousness, but by the millennium grand narratives had fallen victim to a disillusioned cultural climate. Now Steven Pinker, like Condorcet drawing on a wide range of contemporary “knowledges,” has reasserted a sweeping narrative of human progress in The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined. Mapping a spectacular long-term decline in person-on-person violence and reduction in deaths due to war, Pinker celebrates the spread of a cultural pattern of self-restraint, sensitivity to human suffering, and recent regard for human rights, due to the modern state and gentle commerce capitalism.
For Pinker the human condition has gotten steadily better, the decline of violence is an accomplishment we can savor and an impetus to cherish the forces of civilization and enlightenment that made it possible. Why then are so many so negative about modernity? Citing the psychology of temporal proximity to horrific events and the bad-news predilection of the media, Pinker ignores the specifically modern and less directly brutal institutionalized forms of violence as well as the profound ambivalence of progress. He decisively demonstrates the drop in certain kinds of violence, but his account becomes strangely ideological, recapitulating key Cold-War themes—the individual against totalitarianism, the Enlightenment against the counter-Enlightenment, rationalism and freedom against murderous utopianism—distorting his study in the name of gentle commerce, Marxism, and anti-Communism.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 265-277
This article assesses Herman Paul’s intellectual biography of Hayden White, the most important figure in the philosophy of history of the past half century. Offering a clear overview of White’s career and contribution, Paul’s account proceeds chronologically from the 1950s to the present, distinguishing the phases of White’s career, but convincingly pinpointing an abiding core of concerns around an existentialist and liberationist humanism. In that light, White sought to show the way beyond historiographical realism to more innovative approaches—ideally to serve progressive politics. Paul notes, however, that White failed to connect with most mainstream historians, and Paul’s account is not sufficiently probing and critical to explore the gulf. Indeed, following White, Paul is too prone to take White’s particular liberationist agenda as the only alternative to a conservative, passive realism—and thereby to gloss over alternative ways of conceiving the postrealist cultural space. Moreover, Paul fails to note White’s tendency sometimes to imply that mainstream history claims more than it does, and sometimes to denigrate prejudicially what it in fact does, or could do. Although much of White’s challenge could have been especially salutary, he tended toward mischaracterizations that fostered polarization in the historical discipline and reinforced prejudicial understandings of historiography in the wider culture. Paul’s overview provides a useful, and in many ways exemplary, introduction to White’s legacy, but it is too deferential to provide a convincing overall critical assessment.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 278-289
Richard Kirkendall’s collection of essays, The Organization of American Historians and the Writing and Teaching of American History, examines the history of the Organization of American Historians (OAH) from its founding to the present, using that history to illuminate how the writing of American history has changed over the last hundred years. The book provides coverage of all the major dimensions of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association’s (MVHA) and the OAH’s activities, ranging from the work of its scholarly publications, the Mississippi Historical Valley Review and the Journal of American History, to its role in promoting the teaching of American history. Overall, the essays in the volume tell a story of the organization’s progress toward greater inclusion and democracy, falling prey to a Whig interpretation of historiography. In doing so, the book is part of a larger tendency in the way that historians have approached historiography, which in turn reflects their ambivalence about their relationship to the historical process. Thus, even as the very enterprise of historiography is premised on the recognition of how historians are themselves the products of the historical process, historians have revealed the limits to that recognition in their approach to the subject. This essay shows how deeply rooted this duality has been in the study of American historiography and illuminates some of its sources by placing Kirkendall’s book in the context of how the MVHA and the OAH have treated historiography over the course of the organization’s history.
History and Theory 52, no. 2 (May 2013), 290-299
In his thought-provoking book, Alex Mesoudi argues for an evolutionary, unifying framework for the social sciences, which is based on the principles of Darwinian theory. Mesoudi maintains that cultural change can be illuminated by using the genotype-phenotype distinction, and that it is sufficiently similar to biological change to warrant a theory of culture-change based on evolutionary models. He describes examples of cultural microevolution, within-population changes, and the biologically inspired population genetics models used to study them. He also shows that some aspects of large-scale (macro-evolutionary) cultural transformation can be studied by using ecological models and phylogenetic comparative techniques. We argue that although Mesoudi’s evolution-based perspective offers many useful insights, his ambition—the unification of the social sciences within a Darwinian framework through the use of the methods and models he describes—suffers from a major theoretical limitation. His reductive approach leads to overlooking culture as a system with emergent processes and features. Mesoudi therefore does not engage with any of the central past and present theories in sociology and anthropology for which the systems view of culture is central, and he does not analyze the emergent, high-level properties of human cultural-social systems. We suggest that a systems perspective, using some analogies and metaphors from developmental biology, can complement the evolutionary approach and is more in tune with a systems view of society. Such an approach, which stresses feedback and self-sustaining interactions within social networks, and engages with the insights of sociological and anthropological theories, can contribute to the understanding of cultural systems by highlighting the evolution of processes of social cohesion, and by making use of the mathematical approaches of complexity theory.
David L. Marshall
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 1-31
Quentin Skinner’s appropriation of speech act theory for intellectual history has been extremely influential. Even as the model continues to be important for historians, however, philosophers now regard the original speech act theory paradigm as dated. Are there more recent initiatives that might reignite theoretical work in this area? This article argues that the inferentialism of Robert Brandom is one of the most interesting contemporary philosophical projects with historical implications. It shows how Brandom’s work emerged out of the broad shift in the philosophy of language from semantics to pragmatics that also informed speech act theory. The article then goes on to unpack the rich implications of Brandom’s inferentialism for the theory and practice of intellectual history. It contends that inferentialism clarifies, legitimizes, and informs intellectual historical practice, and it concludes with a consideration of the challenges faced by inferentialist intellectual history, together with an argument for the broader implications of Brandom’s work.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 32-48
No contemporary intellectual historian has produced more influential reflections on the historian’s craft than Hayden White and Quentin Skinner, yet their legacy has never been meaningfully compared. Doing so reveals a surprising complementarity in their approach, at least to the extent that Skinner’s stress on recovering the intentionality of authors fits well with White’s observation that irony is the dominant rhetorical mode of historical narrative in our day. Irony itself, to be sure, has to be divided broadly speaking into its dramatic or Socratic variants and the unstable and paradoxical alternative defended by poststructuralist critics. The latter produced in White an anxiety about the anarchistic implications of an allegedly inherent undecidability in historical interpretation and narration, which threatened to conflate history entirely with fiction. By recovering the necessary role of intentionality as a prerequisite for a more moderate version of Socratic and dramatic irony—in which hindsight provides some purchase on a truth denied actors at the time history is made—it is possible to rescue an ironic attitude that can register the frequency of unintended consequences without surrendering to the conclusion that no explanation or interpretation is superior to another. Against yet a third alternative, which tries to reconstruct the past rationally as a prelude to the present, acknowledging the ironic undermining of intentions avoids giving all the power to the contemporary historian and restores a dialogic balance between actors in the past and their present-day interpreters.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 49-53
Why were mid-nineteenth-century Hispanic populations so small in what is now the American Southwest, after centuries of colonization? A brilliant new literature provides a model of explanation in the authority of formidable indigenous polities, especially that great power that Pekka Hämäläinen reveals to us in his book The Comanche Empire. Employing an exercise in cartographic history, centered on the Pecos River Valley, we can confirm a hypothesis drawn from that theoretical model: Comanche sway was so great that European mapmakers appear to have lost knowledge about that geographical region. This new historical model deserves close attention from scholars. In this forum, four leading historians, drawn from different fields, assess the contribution of The Comanche Empire.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 54-59
Pekka Hämäläinen’s The Comanche Empire reflects critical historiographical turns—indigenous power, responses to settler colonialism, and a reorientation of perspective—while uncovering new directions in American Indian history. Moreover, his four-part framework for understanding power—spatial control, economic control, assimilation, and influence over neighbors—provides a useful model for analyzing indigenous polities in other places and times. However, by not explicitly framing the narrative of the Comanche empire within notions of sovereignty, Hämäläinen leaves open opportunities for other scholars of the Comanche and of Native North America. Future historical studies of Native sovereignty, though, should include tribally specific notions of sovereignty and ways of knowing and remembering the past.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 60-66
How should historians write Native history? To what extent should one privilege Native terms, sources, chronologies, and epistemologies? And to what extent should historians align Native history with concepts developed for other peoples and places? These crucial questions about emic (insider) and etic (outsider) approaches to the past are cast into sharp relief in Pekka Hämäläinen’s award-winning The Comanche Empire. This essay charts the perils and possibilities of each position. It then explores possible ways to move beyond the emic/etic division that has dominated many of the recent debates about Native history through a rereading of an episode in which Comanche history collides with US and Mexican history.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 67-74
The Comanche rose by adapting to the technological and trade opportunities brought to New Mexico by the eighteenth-century expansion of New Spain’s globally linked silver economy. They built an empire that flourished in the first half of the nineteenth century, dominating vast areas of the high plains and controlling complex trades, just as a social revolution within Mexico’s wars of independence undermined the silver economy and ended its northward dynamism. Comanche power flourished between a struggling Mexico and an expanding US, until the military and industrial power of the latter combined with the ecological vulnerabilities of the Comanche economy to enable the Anglo-American triumph in what should be called the War for North America of 1846–1848. The US claimed a continental West from an uncertain Mexican sovereignty and an assertive Comanche empire of war and trade. The expansion and collapse of New Spain, the rise and fall of the Comanche empire, and the rise of the United States all occurred within an evolving globalization. Spanish North America expanded to 1810; Comanche power rose in the eighteenth century and soared after 1810 as Mexico struggled with the challenges of nation-making; then the United States defeated both to claim continental hegemony in the 1840s. These expansions, conflicts, and changes—all tied to larger processes of globalization—reshaped North America between 1700 and 1850.
Rachel St. John
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 75-80
This review focuses on Pekka Hämäläinen’s characterization and analysis of the Comanche empire as a spatial category in The Comanche Empire and discusses how this work relates to broader discussions about space and power in borderlands and imperial histories. Although empires have long been central actors in borderlands histories, “empire” has not necessarily been a category of spatial organization and analysis and certainly not one used to describe spaces controlled by Native peoples. By contrast, while Hämäläinen emphasizes the imperial characteristics of the economic, political, and cultural dimensions of Comanche history (as other contributors to this forum discuss), he also uses “empire” to characterize Comanche dominance spatially. Hämäläinen helps us to rethink the spatial dynamics that both shaped and were produced by the encounters between Comanches and Spaniards, French, Mexicans, Americans, and other Native peoples in the Great Plains during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By analyzing how Comanches came to control vast stretches of the southern plains, The Comanche Empire challenges our assumptions about how Native polities and imperial powers (and groups like the Comanches that Hämäläinen argues were both) thought about territorial claims and how they employed more nuanced spatial strategies to assert their authority, extend their cultural influence, and control trade and resources.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 81-90
This essay revisits the main themes and arguments put forward in The Comanche Empire: indigenous agency; spatial reorientation in the writing of colonial histories; the composition of the Comanche empire and its impact on the history of North America. It also responds to a number of specific issues raised by the roundtable participants: differences and similarities between indigenous and Euro-colonial power regimes; balancing of culture-specific frameworks with broad-gauge political economic analysis; linkages between indigenous agency and indigenous sovereignty in colonial encounters; the question of periodization in writing Native American and colonial histories. Finally, the essay points to new ways of understanding, conceptualizing, and comparing nonterritorial nomadic empires by introducing the concept of “kinetic empire,” which refers to a flexible imperial organization that revolves around a set of mobile activities and relies on selective nodal control of key resources.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 91-109
Espen Hammer’s exceptionally fine book explores modern temporality, its problems and prospects. Hammer claims that how people experience time is a cultural/historical phenomenon, and that there is a peculiarly modern way of experiencing time as a series of present moments each indefinitely leading to the next in an ordered way. Time as measured by the clock is the paradigmatic instance of this sense of time. In this perspective time is quantifiable and forward-looking, and the present is dominated by the future. Hammer argues that this manner of experiencing time provides a way of living that brings with it not only the basis for great successes in technology, but also great costs—specifically, what he calls the problems of transience and of meaning. Hammer goes about his task by considering the ways some of the great modern philosophers have characterized present-day temporality and have responded to the problems he has identified. Specifically, he considers what Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, (early) Heidegger, Habermas, Bloch, and Adorno provide in response to our peculiarly modern predicaments. The book is remarkable for its clarity and perceptiveness, but in the process in crucial places it simplifies the matters at hand or fails to push its insights as far as it ought, and in the end promises more than it can deliver. In this it betrays a rationalist confidence in the power of reason that founders on what in many ways remains a mystery.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 110-129
In this collection of critical essays, Dominick LaCapra, with characteristic verve, takes on a variety of authors who have addressed issues relating to intellectual history, history generally, violence, trauma, and the relation between the human and the animal. LaCapra offers two types of criticism—of historians for ignoring or misappropriating theory, and of theorists for engaging in “theoreticism,” a theorizing that rides roughshod over historical specificity and context. The present essay focuses on LaCapra’s discussion of the theoreticism of the critical theorists Giorgio Agamben, Eric L. Santner, and Slavoj Žižek, and in particular on their and LaCapra’s attempts to engage with the “issue of the postsecular.” Although Agamben, Santner, and Žižek highlight some important and provocative issues, this brand of critical theory provides too limited a base for coming to an understanding of current debates over the relation between religion and secular perspectives. Instead, one must approach “postsecularity” with attentiveness to the larger “secularization debate,” and to the way the term postsecular is used by such writers as Jürgen Habermas and John Milbank. LaCapra rightly draws attention to the recent emergence of a discourse of “the postsecular.” Both the term and the concept now cry out for a deeper, more critical, and more historical examination than has so far been attempted.
Paul A. Roth on The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature, and Theory 1957–2007. By Hayden White. Edited with an introduction by Robert Doran. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2010. Pp. 382.
History and Theory 52, no. 1 (February 2013), 130-143
To claim that Hayden White has yet to be read seriously as a philosopher of history might seem false on the face of it. But do tropes and the rest provide any epistemic rationale for differing representations of historical events found in histories? As an explanation of White’s influence on philosophy of history, such a proffered emphasis only generates a puzzle with regard to taking White seriously, and not an answer to the question of why his efforts should be worthy of any philosophical attention at all. For what makes his emphasis on narrative structure and its associated tropes of philosophical relevance? What, it may well be asked, did (or could) any theory that draws its categories from a stock provided by literary criticism contribute to explicating problems with regard to the warranting of claims about knowledge, explanation, or causation that represent those concerns that philosophy typically brings to this field? Robert Doran’s anthologizing of previously uncollected pieces, ranging as they do over a literal half-century of White’s published work, offers an opportunity to identify explicitly those philosophical themes and arguments that regularly and prominently feature there. Moreover, White’s essays in this volume demonstrate a credible knowledge of and interest in mainstream analytic philosophers of his era and also reveal White as deeply influenced by or well acquainted with other important philosophers of history. White thus invites a reading of his work as philosophy, and this volume presents the opportunity for accepting it as such.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 6-22
Commentators have compared Hans-Georg Gadamer’s focus on tradition in Truth and Method to his focus on solidarity in his later work in order to suggest that the latter signals a move away from ontological toward ethical and political concerns. This paper, however, is guided by Gadamer’s own view that his work, both early, late, and in Truth and Method, was always concerned with ethical and political issues. I therefore want to challenge the idea that his so-called politics of solidarity marks a new direction in his work. His politics of solidarity does mark a new direction in discussions of solidarity insofar as he disconnects it from any necessary grounding in preexisting affinities such as religion and nationality. Gadamer’s later work may also be more explicitly concerned with the question of differences and the other than is Truth and Method. Nevertheless, I want to argue that rather than signaling a new direction for Gadamer, both his politics of solidarity and his concern with otherness highlight important features already present in his earlier account of tradition. Indeed, I think attention to this earlier account discloses a political dimension to Gadamer’s thought that is more sophisticated than his remarks on solidarity. Attention to this dimension of his earlier account allows us to challenge the now standard objection that it undermines possibilities for critical reflection.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 23-44
This paper explores the Confucian veneration of the past and its commitment to transmitting the tradition of the sages. It does so by placing it in the context of the historical trajectory from the May Fourth attacks on Confucianism and its scientistic, iconoclastic approach to “saving China,” to similar approaches to China’s modernization in later decades, through the market reforms that launched China into global capitalism, to the revival of Confucianism in recent years. It reexamines the association of the Pragmatism of John Dewey and Hu Shih with the scientistic iconoclasm of the May Fourth Movement and argues that a broader scrutiny of Dewey’s and Hu’s works, beyond the period when Dewey visited China, reveals a more balanced treatment of tradition, science, and modernization. Pragmatists believe in reconstructing, not destroying, traditions in their pursuit of growth for individuals and communities. Despite a tension between the progress-oriented historical consciousness that Dewey inherited from the Enlightenment (a consciousness that some consider as characteristic of modern Western historiography) and the historical consciousness underlying Chinese historiographical tradition (one that views the past as a didactic “mirror”), it is possible to reconcile the Pragmatic reconstruction of tradition with the Confucian veneration of the past. This paper argues for a Pragmatic Confucian approach to Chinese traditions that is selective in its transmission of the past and flexible enough in its “preservation” to allow for progressive change.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 45-59
This article is divided into five parts. After a brief example in the first part, the second explains what historical sense-generation is about. The third characterizes tradition as a pregiven condition of all historical thinking. With respect to this condition, the constructivist theory of history is criticized as one-sided. The fourth part presents tradition as one of the four basic sense criteria of historical narration. The article concludes with a discussion of the role of tradition in the historical culture of modern societies.
Historical sense-generation is a mental procedure by which the past is interpreted for the sake of understanding the present and anticipating the future. This mental procedure is an anthropological universal in the cultural orientation of human practical life and will lead to a concept of the course of time as a necessary factor in the cultural orientation of human life.
Today the dominant opinion in metahistory conceives of historical sense-generation in a constructivist way. The sense of the past is understood as an ascription of meaning onto the past; the past itself has no impact on this meaning. But I hold that the past is already present (as a result of historical developments) in the circumstances and conditions under which historical thinking is performed and is obviously influenced by it. This presence can be called tradition. Before historians construct the past they themselves are already constructed by the present outcome of past developments in the world. Thus tradition is always at work in historical thinking before the past is thematized as history.
Historical sense-generation needs basic principles of sense and meaning. Using these principles transforms the experience of the past into a meaningful history for the present. Despite cultural differences, four sense criteria can be identified as basic for making historical sense of the past. One of the four principles is tradition. It is the most fundamental one upon which all other modes of making sense of the past are grounded. It presents temporal change in the human world such that the world’s order is maintained despite all its changes. Since the emergence of the so-called advanced civilizations, other types of historical narration have overshadowed the constitutive role of tradition. Historical narration has been supplemented by exemplary, genetic, and critical approaches to the past. Yet the traditional one has remained the most frequently used and is the most basic and popular.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 60-88
The first part of this evolutionary study of the persistence of the autocratic/oligarchic variety of personal rule in Russia provides a historical overview, followed by two theories explaining why it persisted, interrupted by brief “times of troubles,” for over 500 years. Edward Keenan, on the one hand, hypothesizes successful long-term adaptation to a demanding environment. Richard Hellie, on the other hand, develops a theory of service-class revolutions and a cyclical pattern based on the methods of Russian elites for overcoming relative backwardness. Neither theory takes a neo-Darwinian approach.
The second part examines neo-Darwinian evolutionary approaches. In the cosmic perspective of Big History, the human species in its relatively brief existence has had an accelerating impact on other species and the earth’s environment. Biologists modeling complex systems come to a similar conclusion. Agent-driven history, as modeled by demographer Noël Bonneuil, raises questions about the adequacy of the historian’s traditional single-trajectory narrative approach to “the time of human history” and also critiques the biases built into the mathematical models of many evolutionary thinkers. An evolutionary approach to human history does not restrict itself to organic replication, but takes into account populations of evolving human skills and also group projects that act as evolutionary forces as well as units of selection, and outlive generations of organic populations.
The third part applies this approach to the Russian tradition of state power by showing how group projects operate as evolutionary forces in a variety of modern power systems. The “parable of the tribes” avers that the aggressive agent in any given power system—ideological, economic, social, military, or political—dictates the dynamics of the system. The “braided stream” approach shows, however sketchily here, how agent-driven modern power systems interact, coevolve, and produce hybrid forms. The Russian tradition is highlighted in this evolutionary context.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 89-104
This essay highlights the influential role played by epistemological nativism in the disciplining of tradition in modern China. Chinese epistemological nativism is the view that the articulation and development of China’s intellectual heritage must draw exclusively on the paradigms and norms of so-called indigenous/local or China-based perspectives. Two case studies are presented to reveal some of the conundrums that confront the disciplining of tradition in modern China: Chinese philosophy and guoxue or National Studies. These case studies also provide an opportunity to reflect on the implications this has for tradition’s place in Chinese modernity.
In the case of the discipline of Chinese philosophy the role of epistemological nativism is evident in widespread calls to return Chinese philosophy to some pristine form, predating its encounter with “Western” philosophy; and in the continued refusal to acknowledge and engage the intellectual diversity of the traditions that contribute to Chinese philosophy’s composite identity. To illustrate this latter claim, I focus on the prominent example of Buddhist philosophy and its Indian roots.
As for the second case study, National Studies has been revived as a discipline, marked as distinct from all other disciplines, because of claims that it represents a holistic body of learning. National Studies’ connection with various traditions of premodern learning is premised on the romantic conceit that these traditions of premodern learning somehow constituted a holistic, even organic, body of learning. The conundrum for contemporary guoxue protagonists, who present guoxue as a holistic body of learning, is that the stronger the claim made that guoxue warrants disciplinary status—and hence to be subjected to disciplinary subdivision—the weaker the case that guoxue is a holistic body of learning. This situation is further exacerbated by the fact that guoxue is an invented tradition.
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 105-113
This article will explore how “tradition” has changed in the process of modernity, with reference to the history and current state of Chinese ethnicities. By employing inevitable relationships in researching “tradition,” such as tradition and the past, tradition and its “original form,” old tradition and new tradition, and the reconstruction and neo-construction of tradition, this article reveals a dynamic but stable essential relationship among them. Whereas both the historical nihilism that completely repudiates tradition and the historical conservatism that completely affirms it are one-sided and untrue, my analysis indicates that the modern development of a Chinese nationality is, in some sense, the history of “the growth of the modern and the invention of tradition.”
History and Theory 51, no. 4 (December 2012), 114-135
This paper will address the topic of “tradition” by exploring the ways that Martin Heidegger, Emmanuel Levinas, and Jacques Derrida each looked to return to traditional texts in order to overcome a perceived crisis or delimiting fault in the contemporary thought of their respective presents. For Heidegger, this meant a return to the pre-Socratics of “early Greek thinking.” For Levinas, it entailed a return to the sacred Jewish texts of the Talmud. For Derrida, it was the return to texts that embodied the “Western metaphysical tradition,” be it by Plato, Descartes, Rousseau, or Marx. I then want to ask whether these reflections can be turned so as to shed light on three resilient trends in the practice of history that I will label positivist, speculative or teleological, and constructivist. By correlating the ways that Heidegger, Levinas, and Derrida utilize and employ “tradition” with the historical trends of positivism, speculative/teleological history, and constructivism, I hope to produce an engagement between theorists whose concerns implicate history even though they may not be explicitly historical, and historians who may not realize the ways that their work coincides with the claims of these theorists.
Paul A. Roth
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 313-339
This essay offers a reconfiguration of the possibility-space of positions regarding the metaphysics and epistemology associated with historical knowledge. A tradition within analytic philosophy from Danto to Dummett attempts to answer questions about the reality of the past on the basis of two shared assumptions. The first takes individual statements as the relevant unit of semantic and philosophical analysis. The second presumes that variants of realism and antirealism about the past exhaust the metaphysical options (and so shape the epistemology as well). This essay argues that both of these assumptions should be rejected. It develops as an alternative an irrealist account of history, a view based in part on work by Leon Goldstein and Ian Hacking. On an irrealist view, historical claims ought to be treated as subject to the same conditions and caveats that apply to any theory of empirical or scientific knowledge. Irrealism argues for pasts as made and not found. The argument emphasizes the priority of classification over perception in the order of understanding and so verification. Because nothing a priori anchors practices of classification, no sense can be attached to claims that some single structure must or does determine what events take place in human history. Irrealism denies to realism the very intelligibility of any imagined view from nowhere, that is, a determinately configured past subsisting sub specie aeternitatis. A plurality of pasts exists because constituting a past always depends to some degree on socially mediated negotiations of a fit between descriptions and experience.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 340-363
The narrativist turn of the 1970s and 1980s transformed the discussion of general history. With the rejection of Rankean historical realism, the focus shifted to the historian as a narrator and on narratives as literary products. Oddly, the historiography of science took a turn in the opposite direction at the same time. The social turn in the historiography of science emphasized studying science as a material and practical activity with traceable and documentable traits. This empirization of the field has led to an understanding that history of science could be directly describable from scientific practice alone without acknowledging the role of the historian as a constructor of narratives about these practices. Contemporary historians of science tend to be critical of science’s ability to describe its object—nature, as it is—but they often are not similarly skeptical of their own abilities to describe their object: past science, as it is. I will argue that historiography of science can only gain from a belated narrativist turn.
Introduced and edited by Peter Baehr and Translated by Gordon C. Wells
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 364-380
In 1952, Waldemar Gurian, founding editor of The Review of Politics, commissioned Eric Voegelin, then a professor of political science at Louisiana State University, to review Hannah Arendt’s recently published The Origins of Totalitarianism (1951). She was given the right to reply; Voegelin would furnish a concluding note. Preceding this dialogue, Voegelin wrote a letter to Arendt anticipating aspects of his review; she responded in kind. Arendt’s letter to Voegelin on totalitarianism, written in German, has never appeared in print before. She wrote two drafts of it, the first and longest being the more interesting. It contained an early reference to her thinking about the relationship among plurality, politics, and philosophy. It also invoked her notion of the compelling “logic” of totalitarian ideology. But this was not the letter Voegelin received. Because of this, he misunderstood significant parts of her argument. Below, the two versions of Arendt’s letter are translated. They are prefaced by a translation of Voegelin’s initial message to Arendt. An introduction compares Arendt’s letters, offers context, and provides a snapshot of Arendt’s and Voegelin’s perceptions of each other. Their views of political religion and human nature are also highlighted. Keyed to Arendt and Voegelin’s letters are pertinent aspects of the debate in The Review of Politics that followed their epistolary exchange.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 381-396
The critique of conventional historical writing has been emergent for a century—it is not the work of a few—and it has immense practical implications for Western society, perhaps especially in English-speaking countries. Involved are such issues as the decline of representation, the nature of causality, the definitions of identity or time or system, to name only a few. Conventional historians are quite right to consider this a challenge to everything they assume in order to do their work. The challenge is, why do that particular work at all? Understandably, historians have consolidated, especially in North America where empiricism and the English language prevail. But even there, and certainly elsewhere, and given the changes in knowledge and social order during the past century at least, the critique of conventional historical method is unavoidable. Too bad historians aren’t doing more to help this effort, and by historians I don’t mean the most of us who think constantly in terms of historical causality as we learned it from the nineteenth century and our teachers; by “historians” I mean the experts who continue to teach the young. A major roadblock to creative discussion is the fact that problems such as those just mentioned all exceed disciplinary boundaries, so investigation that does not follow suit cannot grasp the problem, much less respond to it creatively. Of course everyone is “for” interdisciplinary work, but most professional organizations, publications, and institutions do not encourage it, despite lip service to the contrary. Interdisciplinary work involves more than the splicing activity that is all too familiar in academic curricula. Crossing out of one’s realm of “expertise” requires a kind of humility that does not always sort well with the kind of expertise fostered by professional organizations, publications, and institutions. And even the willing have trouble with the heady atmosphere outside the professional bubble. In such conditions key terms (“language,” “discourse,” “relativism,” “modernity,” “postmodernity,” “time,” “difference”) are pushed here and pushed there without gaining the focus that would lead to currency until finally the ostensible field of play resembles a gigantic traffic jam like the one that opens the film Fellini Roma. Discussion of these issues leads in the end to Borges and his story, “The Modesty of History,” from which the title of this essay is borrowed.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 397-410
This review of Martin Jay’s recent published collection of essays examines his ongoing rethinking, supplementation, and revision of central themes—the negative and positive dialectics of historical totalization, the varieties and uses of conceptions of experience, the nature of visual cultures and scopic regimes, and the ambiguities of truth-construction in the public realm—that have been the focus of his major works since the 1970s. It argues that his more recent work indicates a gradual shift toward an affirmation of the kinds of paratactic and deconstructive thinking of Adorno and Derrida as models for producing appropriate forms of historical consciousness and historical critique in the present, and it raises the question of how the issues of historical truth-telling, consensual collective identity, ethical action, and the cultural role of the critical intellectual are reformulated in this process.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 411-422
Javier Fernández Sebastián’s edited collections of essays, Political Concepts and Time, is both a critical homage to the monumental work of Reinhart Koselleck (1923–2006) and an important contribution to the methodology of history-writing. Centered on the polysemic nature of concepts, which are read as “‘vehicles for thought’” studied in their pragmatic and communicative applications in society, Political Concepts and Time provides a stimulating analysis of the role, weight, and future of conceptual history.
Its thirteen essays offer an account of problems, questions, and debates on the interplay of words and concepts, meaning and historical change, context and discourse. They endeavor to clarify the complicated and perennially unresolved relationship between theory and practice. In order to do so, Fernández Sebastián has assembled a scholarly composite and broadly international group of specialists from a variety of disciplines and research fields.
With the intellectual legacy of Koselleck’s Begriffsgeschichte looming large, this book rethinks the ways in which not just historians but also social scientists and philosophers study the past as the expression of contingent, ever-changing, and revocable semantic units shaping the culturally plural worlds we inhabit. Informed by the idea that history is porous, Political Concepts and Time also deals with the perhaps obvious but no less challenging issue of our approach to time as everyday experience and through its representation(s).
Together with exploring the volume’s specific historical topics, this essay will highlight some of its limitations and, above all, will respond to its criticism of intellectual history. The following pages will thus argue the case for the latter methodological perspective by reflecting on the type of historian it delineates. Claiming that in their investigation of past meanings intellectual historians make use of creative imagination, the essay will suggest that this model of history-writing leads to a better understanding of multiple sources and that it might ultimately help overcome some of the inconsistencies and often simplistic divisions between various branches of the historiographical tree. In particular, a small proposal to reconcile conceptual and intellectual history will be advanced.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 423-435
This essay reviews the recent book by Carolyn Dean that seeks to elucidate the ways in which complaints about a “surfeit of memory” and the privileging of Jewish victimization during the Holocaust as unique and as the emblem of radical evil in our times has shaped discussions of victims in general, creating an environment in which groups vie for victim status as a means of validating their grievances and making claims for justice. The hostility to such claims has, Dean argues, created antivictim discourses that end up generating aversion toward victims, primarily by denying the validity of their claims to suffering and, in the case of Jews, projecting them as “perpetrators” in their neglect of the suffering of others. At the same time, Dean argues, the demand that victims narrate their suffering in the aesthetically constrained style of “minimalism” equally undermines the legitimacy of victims’ memories by demanding that they be presented in an already mastered form, thereby erasing the very trauma that, in principle, such narratives seek to represent.
At stake in the debates concerning Holocaust memorial consciousness and its proper modes of representation, this article suggests, are larger historiographical and ethical issues about how to integrate the horrors of the past and the traumatic experience of terror into the normal protocols of historical writing, which rely on distance, objectivity, and interpretive critique as governing procedures. To incorporate terror into historical representation will mean acknowledging and accepting as historiographically legitimate the differing status of analytically recuperated “facts” and victim testimony and finding a way to theorize the reality of “voices” from the past without assuming the necessary “truth” of what they convey.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 436-450
In 1929 Ernst Cassirer and Martin Heidegger participated in a momentous debate in Davos, Switzerland, which is widely held to have marked an important division in twentieth-century European thought. Peter E. Gordon’s recent book, Continental Divide: Heidegger, Cassirer, Davos, centers on this debate between these two philosophical adversaries. In his book Gordon examines the background of the debate, the issues that distinguished the respective positions of Cassirer and Heidegger, and the legacy of the debate for later decades. Throughout the work, Gordon concisely portrays the source of disagreement between the two adversaries in terms of a difference between Cassirer’s philosophy of spontaneity and Heidegger’s philosophy of receptivity, or of “thrownness” (Geworfenheit), into a situation that finite human beings can never hope to master. Although it recognizes that this work provides an important contribution to our understanding of the Davos debate and to twentieth-century European thought, this review essay subjects Gordon’s manner of interpreting the distinction between Cassirer and Heidegger to critical scrutiny. Its purpose is to examine the possibility that important aspects of the debate, which do not conform to the grid imposed by Gordon’s interpretation, might have been set aside in the context of his analysis.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 451-465
This essay investigates the thesis that inhumanity breeds humanity. Many questions arise when we try to corroborate it: Can we say anything at all about the inhumanity of human beings? Why did large-scale inhumanity occurring before 1700 not elicit a human rights regime? Was the human rights take-off from 1760 to 1800 triggered by instances of inhumanity, and why did the take-off not last? Why did the human rights idea eclipse after 1800 only to reemerge after 1945? Were war and genocide the sole causes of the human rights revival after 1945 or were there also other factors? Was the breakthrough in 1977 of human rights as a mass movement related to any inhumanity? And, finally, is the contemporary enthusiasm for human rights, with 1998 as its stepping stone, sufficient to make atrocities unthinkable for good? I conclude that, at several moments in history, inhumanity did propel humanity, but also that there are many other instances in which inhumanity only gave birth to more inhumanity. If the inhumanity thesis were necessarily true, we would need more human rights catastrophes to inspire more human rights progress. And that would be a self-defeating paradox.
History and Theory 51, no. 3 (October 2012), 466-476
In this polemical book, Francesco Boldizzoni argues that economic history is so moribund as to require resurrection. He maintains that economic history has been converted into a subfield of economics and has embraced the antihistorical and a priori intellectual style of mainstream economics departments: it has, in effect, ceased to be a form of history. Boldizzoni hopes to force a recognition of contemporary economic history’s bankruptcy and to show the way toward a revitalization.
He criticizes both economic history as retrospective econometrics, as in the work of Robert Fogel, and economic history as a branch of the new institutional economics, as in the work of Douglas North. Boldizzoni suggests that economic history should return to the sort of research and models that prevailed earlier in its own history—models based on induction from observed economic life rather than on deduction from the theories of contemporary microeconomics. He particularly singles out the work of Witold Kula, Moses Finley, and the Annales historians for emulation, but also praises the perspectives of economic sociology and economic anthropology.
Boldizzoni’s call for a return to a more inductive form of economic history is welcome, and his discussions of his heroes should remind us that economic history was once a vibrant and creative part of the history profession. But the book’s advice is more useful for historians working on premodern than on modern economic life. The claim that self-governing markets and interest-maximizing individual actors are pure figments of economists’ imaginations seems far less certain for recent than for premodern times. And his insistence that each society has its own distinct form of economic life that must be discovered inductively leaves unconceptualized the world-spanning forces of capitalist development that increasingly shape societies everywhere. Boldizzoni’s critique and his positive suggestions are certainly valuable, but he by no means supplies a sufficient recipe for economic history’s resurrection as a vibrant field.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012),151-171
In this essay I intend to flesh out and discuss what I consider to be the groundbreaking contribution by the German historian and theorist of history Reinhart Koselleck to postwar historiography: his theory of historical times. I begin by discussing the view, so prominent in the Anglophone context, that Koselleck’s idea of the plurality of historical times can be grasped only in terms of a plurality of historical periods in chronological succession, and hence, that Koselleck’s theory of historical times is in reality a theory of periodization. Against this interpretation, to be found in works by Kathleen Davis, Peter Osborne, and Lynn Hunt, among others, I will argue that not only is Koselleck’s theory of historical times, or, with a more phenomenlogical turn of phrase, his theory of multiple temporalities, not a theory of periodization, it is, furthermore, a theory developed to defy periodization. Hence, at the core of Koselleck’s work is the attempt to replace the idea of linear, homogeneous time with a more complex, heterogeneous, and multilayered notion of temporality. In this essay I will demonstrate how this shift is achieved by means of three dichotomies: between natural and historical, extralinguistic and intralinguistic, and diachronic and synchronic time.
Bert Leuridan and Anton Froeyman
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 172-192
The use of general and universal laws in historiography has been the subject of debate ever since the end of the nineteenth century. Since the 1970s there has been a growing consensus that general laws such as those in the natural sciences are not applicable in the scientific writing of history. We will argue against this consensus view, not by claiming that the underlying conception of what historiography is—or should be—is wrong, but by contending that it is based on a misconception of what general laws such as those of the natural sciences are. We will show that a revised notion of law, one inspired by the work of Sandra D. Mitchell, in tandem with Jim Woodward’s notion of “invariance,” is indeed applicable to historiography, much in the same way as it is to most other scientific disciplines. Having developed a more adequate account of general laws, we then show, by means of three examples, that what are called “pragmatic laws” and “invariance” do in fact play a role in history in several interesting ways. These examples—from cultural history, economic history, and the history of religion—have been selected on the basis of their diversity in order to illustrate the widespread use of pragmatic laws in history.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 193-220
The term “emotional practices” is gaining currency in the historical study of emotions. This essay discusses the theoretical and methodological implications of this concept. A definition of emotion informed by practice theory promises to bridge persistent dichotomies with which historians of emotion grapple, such as body and mind, structure and agency, as well as expression and experience. Practice theory emphasizes the importance of habituation and social context and is thus consistent with, and could enrich, psychological models of situated, distributed, and embodied cognition and their approaches to the study of emotion.
It is suggested here that practices not only generate emotions, but that emotions themselves can be viewed as a practical engagement with the world. Conceiving of emotions as practices means understanding them as emerging from bodily dispositions conditioned by a social context, which always has cultural and historical specificity. Emotion-as-practice is bound up with and dependent on “emotional practices,” defined here as practices involving the self (as body and mind), language, material artifacts, the environment, and other people. Drawing on Pierre Bourdieu’s concept of
habitus, the essay emphasizes that the body is not a static, timeless, universal foundation that produces ahistorical emotional arousal, but is itself socially situated, adaptive, trained, plastic, and thus historical. Four kinds of emotional practices that make use of the capacities of a body trained by specific social settings and power relations are sketched out—mobilizing, naming, communicating, and regulating emotion—as are consequences for method in historical research.
(on A. Dirk Moses, German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past and eight other books)
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 221-245
This review essay seeks to direct attention to intellectual history as a new and flourishing subfield in the historiography of post-1945 Germany. The essay probes and critically interrogates some of the basic arguments of Dirk Moses’ prize-winning monograph German Intellectuals and the Nazi Past. It does so by engaging with a series of German-language monographs on key intellectuals of the postwar period (Alexander Mitscherlich, Jürgen Habermas, Herbert Marcuse) or groups of intellectuals that have appeared during the last few years. The essay also includes two books that focus on intellectual transfers from and to the United States and hence transcend the purely national framework. The essay highlights some broader themes such as West German intellectuals’ confrontation with the Nazi past and with the memory of Germany’s failed experiment with democracy during the interwar Weimar Republic. It also discusses the significance of the West German student movement in the 1960s for West German intellectual history. The essay concludes with some broader reflections on writing intellectual history of the postwar period, and it points to some avenues for further research. It underlines the significance of intellectual debates—and hence of intellectual history—for charting and explaining the process of postwar democratization and liberalization in the Federal Republic of Germany.
In Humanism in Intercultural Perspective, editors Jörn Rüsen and Henner Laass outline their project of renewing the foundations of the notion of “humanism.” They collect a large variety of contributions they hope will be conducive to this aim. Yet the architecture of the project leaves open a long list of conceptual problems, concerning in particular: the integration of cultural diversity into humanism; the relationship between humanism and the political; the way in which normativity is incorporated into humanism; and the question as to the place of historicity in the human condition. An extended discussion of Elisio Macamo’s, Dipesh Chakrabarty’s, and Friedrich Wilhelm Graf’s contributions to the volume serves to further elucidate these problems and to explore ways in which they might possibly be solved.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 257-269
An Atheism that is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought examines the advent of antihumanism as a cultural figure out of a network of intellectual crises in interwar and postwar France and ties this advent to the more general consequences of secularization in the modern age. Bracketing political judgments, and eschewing dialectical methods, Stefanos Geroulanos shows how the critique of humanism that emerged from disparate quarters of French intellectual life resulted in a series of negative positions that rendered the human void of any conceptual content and thereby unsuitable as a basis for future political action or philosophical investigation. In addition to basing his analysis on two rigorously sketched concepts of his own design, “antifoundational realism” and “negative anthropology,” Geroulanos deploys a striking use of conceptual irony to show how the critical efforts of his protagonists often led to theoretical cul-de-sacs and a heightened measure of existential despondency. The treatment of the emergence of antihumanism as a local phenomenon among a segment of French intellectuals nevertheless encounters problems when it abandons the terrain of historical argument for an engagement with broader metaphysical concerns. By participating in the discourse of its subjects, An Atheism that is Not Humanist finds its way into cul-de-sacs of its own, in which, for example, the ostensibly political bearing of efforts to transcend mere politics for broader considerations of the “theo-political crisis of modernity” remains unclear. Finally, by accepting the terms of the phenomenological diagnosis of metaphysical crisis in the interwar years, the book compromises certain of its genealogical aspirations, especially with regard to the legacy of Third Republic idealism and the specific qualities of post-phenomenological structuralism.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 270-279
In his 1998 book Heterocosmica: Fiction and Possible Worlds, Lubomír Doležel put forth a theory of narrative fiction based on the interdisciplinary framework of possible worlds. In Possible Worlds of Fiction and History: The Postmodern Stage, Doležel takes his earlier theory further and applies it to historiography as well, with the specific aim of showing how the study of history might be defended against the postmodern challenge via the use of possible worlds (PW) semantics. Doležel’s book is essentially an argument against the postmodern views expressed by Roland Barthes and Hayden White, who have claimed that fundamentally, there is no difference between fictional and historical narratives. According to Doležel, this difference can be saved if the focus of attention is shifted from the textual features of these narratives to the fictional or historical worlds that the narratives project.
Doležel’s comparison of fictional and historical worlds to each other is quite illuminating and thorough. However, the question remains whether the application of PW semantics does anything besides offering a detailed analysis of the structure of the different types of narrative worlds. After all, one should not overlook the perhaps more practical way of differentiating between historical and fictional narratives through their institutional status. Furthermore, we argue that by focusing on the properties of the end products, that is, the resulting narratives, Doležel concedes too much to postmodernists. A stronger way to give postmodernists a taste of their own medicine would be to argue that the rules that historians follow in the process of generating, constructing, and evaluating weighed causal explanations (or historical models of the past) are fundamentally different from whatever rules govern the generation and construction of fiction.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 280-291
The defeat of Germany and Japan in 1945 required historians in both countries to reevaluate the past to make sense of national catastrophe. Sebastian Conrad’s The Quest for the Lost Nation analyzes this process comparatively in the context of allied military occupation and the Cold War to reveal how historians in both countries coped with a discredited national history and gradually salvaged a national identity. He pays special attention to the role of social, discursive, and transnational contexts that shaped this process to highlight the different courses that the politics of the past took in postwar Germany and Japan. The picture that emerges of German and Japanese historiography and the respective attempts to come to terms with the past is at odds with the conventional narrative that usually praises West German historians and society for having come to terms with their dark past, as opposed to postwar Japan, which is usually regarded as having fallen short by comparison. There was in fact far more critical historiographical engagement with the past in Japan than in West Germany in the 1950s. Reasons for the divergent evolution of the politics of the past in Germany and Japan should not be sought in the peculiarities of postwar national history but rather in an entangled transnational context of defeat, occupation, and the Cold War, whose effects played out differently in each country. These conclusions and others reveal some of the opportunities and special challenges of comparative transnational history.
History and Theory 51, no. 2 (May 2012), 292-304
This selection of texts (mostly translations from Polish) should interest those who study analytical philosophy of history, methodology of history, and historical sociology. It contains contributions by Polish historians and philosophers since 1931, with pride of place given to the work of the Poznań school in the philosophy of science and humanities. With Jerzy Kmita, Leszek Nowak, and Jerzy Topolski as its leaders, it emerged in late 1960s as a synthesis of Marxism and the Polish brand of logical positivism known as the Lwow-Warsaw school. Most papers discuss or exemplify various forms of idealization in historical research. Although the papers demonstrate the usefulness of modeling in historical sociology and nonnarrative history, the collection as a whole does not provide realistic examples to substantiate the Poznań school‘s stronger claim of the decomposability of historical narratives into separate strips related to hierarchically ordered “essential factors.”
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 1-17
My aim in this article is to provide a critical-productive appreciation of witness testimony that avoids the false and crooked dichotomies that pervade contemporary philosophy of history and historical theory. My specific, pragmatist approach combines the recent accounts of Hayden White about “witness literature” with the “generative-performative” consideration of testimony by Martin Kusch. The purpose is to appreciate, in a non-foundationalist way, the epistemic and moral role of testimony in the constitution of the representation of the recent past. To achieve this I examine the assumed epistemic and political privilege of the testimonies of survivors of state terrorism from the recent past, and I draw on insights of three of the most relevant survivor witnesses: Primo Levi, Victor Klemperer, and Pilar Calveiro. The essay tries to avoid both an epistemic and a moral posture based on something like “the privileged victim’s perspective,” and instead approaches the specific analysis of production and circulation of witness discourse in terms of its contribution to the constitution of the past. That is, it recommends that one look at witness testimony not as an attempt to return to the past but as an action in the present. The result in so doing is to follow some recent results discussed in the new epistemology of witness testimony, which insist that: first, trust
in testimony is an irreducible function of the acceptance of knowledge (this means that testimonies should not be treated as secondary sources of knowledge or as parasitical on experience and reason); and second, the production-circulation of testimonies does not function only in the context of justification but is also legitimately constitutive of knowledge.JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 51-55 Contents Listing || top
Colin F. Wilder
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 18-41
In the past millennium, there have been thousands of polities in Europe and millions of laws. This article contributes to efforts by historians and sociologists to make some sense of this sprawl by constructing common types of law and legal change. Such types constitute distinctive patterns by which historical actors change names, ideas, and applications of rules of law under various circumstances. Three classic forms of change, namely legislation, mutation of custom, and judge-made law, were described by Max Weber. To Weber’s model I add four new types or motifs of change, which I dub legal deeds, voice-supersession, legal fictions, and anthropological expansion. The major advance of the four motifs is that they each combine what could be called a semantic and a social view of legal change. That is, they take seriously the fact that law is often bound in a self-conscious tradition of thought and practice. But each motif of change is also characterized by a typified social configuration of legal operators and legal subjects, who apply competing ideas to one another in distinctive ways. The paradigm of law in which the four motifs are embedded is evolutionary, pluralist, and liberal in that it posits creative social organization by multiple, independent, interacting individuals in society, weaving cumulative, complex orders.
This theory makes several significant scholarly interventions. First, it attempts to reconcile outstanding semantic and social theories of legal change. Second, it historicizes legal pluralism while giving evolutionary theory a healthy dose of contingency. Third, the four motifs should also be serviceable to intellectual historians as tools for describing how historical actors interact with traditions generally. Tradition need not be viewed as conservative or even overwhelmingly static. This paradigm may help historians and social scientists assess how the force of the status quo balances against the power of individuals to innovate.JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 51-55 Contents Listing || top
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 42-62
It was only in the early twentieth century that China discovered that it had a population, at least if a population is understood not as a simple number of people but instead in terms of such features as variable levels of health, birth and death rates, age, sex, dependency ratios, and so on—as an object with a distinct rationality and intrinsic dynamics that can be made the target of a specific kind of direct intervention. In 1900, such a developmentalist conception of the population simply did not exist in China; by the 1930s, it pervaded the entire social and political field from top to bottom. Through a reading of a series of foundational texts in population and family reformism in China, this paper argues that this birth of the Chinese population occurred as a result of a general transformation of practices of governing, one that necessarily also involved a reconceptualization of the family and a new logic of overall social rationalization; in short, the isolation of a population–family–economy nexus as a central field of modern governing. This process is captured by elaborating and extending Foucault’s studies of the historical emergence of apparatuses (dispositifs) into a notion of fields of governability. Finally, this paper argues that the one-child policy, launched in the late 1970s, should be understood not in isolation from the imposition of the “family-responsibility system” in agriculture and market reforms in exactly that period, but as part—mutatis mutandis—of a return to a form of governing that was developed in the first half of the twentieth century.JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 51-55 Contents Listing || top
Joan W. Scott
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 63-83
This article argues that, although psychoanalysis and history have different conceptions of time and causality, there can be a productive relationship between them. Psychoanalysis can force historians to question their certainty about facts, narrative, and cause; it introduces disturbing notions about unconscious motivation and the effects of fantasy on the making of history. This was not the case with the movement for psychohistory that began in the 1970s. Then the influence of American ego-psychology on history-writing promoted the idea of compatibility between the two disciplines in ways that undercut the critical possibilities of their interaction. The work of the French historian Michel de Certeau provides theoretical insight into the uses of incommensurability, while that of Lyndal Roper demonstrates both its limits and its value for enriching historical understanding.JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 51-55 Contents Listing || top
Frank Ankersmit on Fredric Jameson, Valences of the Dialectic
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 84-106
This review essay attempts to understand the book under review against the background of Jameson’s previous writings. Failing to do so would invite misunderstanding since there are few contemporary theorists whose writing forms so much of a unity. Jameson’s book can be divided into three parts. The first and most important part deals with dialectics, the second with politics, and the third with philosophy of history. In the first part Jameson argues that dialectics best captures our relationship to the sociocultural and historical world we are living in. The second part makes clear that Jameson is not prepared to water down his own Marxist politics in order to spare the liberal sensibilities of his political opponents. In the third part Jameson develops his own philosophy of history, mainly in a dialogue with Ricoeur. Dialectics is his main weapon in his discussion with Ricoeur, and it becomes clear that the Spinozism of dialectics allows for a better understanding of history and of historical writing than does Ricoeur’s phenomenological approach. The book is an impressive testimony to the powers of dialectical thought and to its indispensability for a proper grasp of historical writing.JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 51-55 Contents Listing || top
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 107-115
This book assumes that basic ways of thinking about history are hard-wired in the brain. Since different styles of discourse with which we talk about the past are hard-wired, Blum infers that a protohistorical consciousness is necessary for the existence of language. Historical logics reflect some preconceived part–whole relation. Blum discerns four kinds of part–whole structure, which he terms continuity, quantum, continuum, and dialectic. Blum believes that these part–whole relations rest on universal, prereflective intuitions. He concludes that humans have different prelinguistic intuitions of time.
Blum claims that people’s variable innate temporality is expressed in their historical style. It follows that historical style antedates history as a genre. Hence we are not talking about historical style, but about how individuals apply their sense of the relation between parts and wholes to the problem of time. Our study of historical context becomes secondary to the assumptions we make about the interface between part–whole relations and time. The temporality of history is derivative of a phenomenon that is not historical.
Certain conclusions are suggestive. First, modality precedes tense in evolution. Second, we ourselves are continuing to evolve. Blum believes that we are moving “towards a selection of abstract thinkers ruled by pure reason.” Instead of viewing cultures as organisms, it is more profitable to think of the evolution of structures of thinking, and to show that some are more prominent at present than they have been in the past.
For Blum, historical thinking is a dependent variable. It depends on tense and modality, which are given before language and culture. Historical thinking reflects a primary experience, but it is not such a primary experience itself.
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 116-122
When encountering something unfamiliar, it is natural to describe and understand it by reference to what is familiar. Commentary on Chinese landscape painting usually relies heavily upon analogies with Western art. James Elkins, concerned to understand the implications of this procedure, asks whether in seeing and writing about this art we ever can escape our Western perspectives. His problem is not just that he himself does not know Chinese. Even bilingual specialists or native Chinese speakers employ this vocabulary, for the vocabulary of contemporary art history, developed in the West, now is the language of academic art history everywhere. We know that we are distorting our descriptions of this Chinese art, even though we don’t know how to “get it right.” In the history of European painting from Cimabue to the present, it would be hard to find any Western paintings that could be confused with any art made in China, so the frequent reliance of scholars upon such comparisons seems problematic. Of course, in the near future this situation might change. Perhaps in fifty years, as China becomes more prosperous, art history will become a hybrid discipline. At that point, the situation, which Elkins analyzes, will be reversed. But such a change is a long way in the future.
History and Theory 51, no. 1 (February 2012), 123-142
John Searle’s most recent effort to account for human social institutions claims to provide a synthesis of the explanatory and the normative while simultaneously dismissing as confused and wrongheaded theorists who held otherwise. Searle, although doubtless alert to the usual considerations for separating the normative and the explanatory projects, announces at the outset that he conceives of matters quite differently. Searle’s reason for reconceiving the field rests on his claim that both ends can be achieved by a single “underlying principle of social ontology” (7). This principle, he maintains, proves basic both to any explanation of how the social arises and sustains itself as well as to all justifications of core common norms, for example, human rights. His approach transforms what previously appeared to be ontological/explanatory questions (and so prima facie empirical/causal matters) completely into semantic/conceptual issues. By situating language as constitutive of the social, and intentionality as a necessary conceptual precursor to language, Searle claims to join by semantic necessity philosophical projects that the philosophical tradition that he rejects held distinct. Searle’s notion of the social comes for free once one has language as a conventional cloak for prelinguistic, semantically well-formed intentional contents, individual and collective. But upon examination, Searle’s key argument for displacement of the tradition depends upon the viability of his linguistic mechanism, and that in turn requires prelinguistic necessity for all forms of intentionality. But he can produce no compelling connection, conceptual or empirical, to establish the role that collective intentionality supposedly must play.