Volume 56-60: Abstracts

Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing 


The Ontology of Capital: On the Shared Methodological Limits of Modernization Theory and its Critics

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 171-192

This article argues that critical scholarship in historical studies has not overcome the methodological limits of modernization theory for failing to question the ontological principles that construct its object of analysis. I call these principles the “ontology of capital” and explicate them through Bourdieu’s conceptualization of the field and capital. I argue that this ontology is established according to a distribution model in which social entities come into the analysis with the amount and value of the capital they hold. This model grasps all social relations in the form of competition, and actors and actions enter into the analysis only when they are involved in such relations. I then analyze Bernard Lewis’s The Emergence of Modern Turkey, which is written explicitly from a modernization perspective, to show how the principles of the “ontology of capital” operate in this text. The analysis focuses on how sociohistorical facts are constructed through selection and articulation of empirical evidence that become meaningful only on the basis of this ontology. The aim of this analysis is to show the ontology of capital that constructs the object of analysis in Lewis’s text rather than the Eurocentric, teleological, and elitist character of his analysis of history that critics in recent decades have addressed as problems of the modernization paradigm. Based on this, I argue that for a productive critical approach, relational analysis, which characterizes critical scholarship in contrast to essentialism, also has to consider the ontological principles in a historical work to overcome methodological limits. The failure to interrogate this ontology leads to an analytical separation in critical scholarship between the analysis of historical reality and of alternatives to this reality. This separation not only produces a dehistoricized analysis of the present from a critical perspective, but also turns the alternatives into utopian models.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


There Is No Colonial Relationship: Antagonism, Sikhism, and South Asian Studies

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 193-215

This article identifies how scholars have displaced antagonism within histories of Sikhism and South Asian Studies more broadly. In contrast to this displacement, this article foregrounds antagonism by taking into account a third element within the presumed colonizer and colonized relationship: a curved space of nonrelation that signals there can be no colonial relationship. By considering the constitutive nature of antagonism within social reality that remains unable to be demarcated, this article examines the generative principles of Sikh practices and concepts that both structure Sikhism’s institutions and productively conceptualize this antagonism. Examining these concepts and practices, I consider the possibility of different modes of both historical being and becoming not bound within our current conceptual rubrics. These different possibilities culled through Sikh concepts and theories demand we reflect upon the rabble: those unable to be contained within colonial civil society or within attempts by the colonized for self-determination in political societies. This void then fractured Sikh reform organizations historically, providing multiple avenues for politics unaccountable within our bifurcated and asymmetrical understandings of civil society and political societies and colonizer and colonized.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


What Was Critical History? A Reading of Richard Simon’s Histoire critique du Vieux Testament

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 216-231

The roots of the modern critical historical attitude are usually set in one of the following phenomena: (1) the Quarrel of the Ancients and the Moderns; (2) the establishment of historiography as a scientific discipline; and (3) the newly gained awareness of anachronism. However, these accounts either neglect the normative character of the above-mentioned phenomena or operate with an a priori definition of “critical history,” which leads them to retrospectively attribute the concept of “critique” to historical realities that have not used the term to denote their attitude toward or their treatment of the past. Rather than starting from an a priori definition of what “critical history” is, I propose to inquire into what “critical history” was at the moment when it was first conceived as such—namely in Richard Simon’s Histoire critique du Vieux Testament. I will begin by presenting Simon’s conception of critique, which entailed: (a) a grammatical and philological treatment of the text in question; (b) a historical and cultural contextualization of this text; and (c) a specific type of judgment to be applied to what is written therein. Since this last aspect constitutes the key to understanding critique’s attitude toward the past, I will, in the second part, focus my attention on the notion that plays a pivotal role in the exercise of “critical judgment,” that is, on the concept of tradition. Last, I will propose that since Simon’s critical history does not seem to be completely autonomous in relation to its object, the roots of our modern call for normative autonomy vis-à-vis the past should be sought with the authors whom Simon opposed in his work, but from whom nonetheless he inherited the term critique: Protestant authors such as Scaliger, Casaubon, and Cappel.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

Forum: Historicizing Nostalgia       


The Meanings of Nostalgia: Genealogy and Critique

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 232-248

Nostalgia has become a new master narrative both in public discourse and academic research, serving as an explanation for trends in fields as different as popular culture, fashion, technology, and politics. This essay criticizes the wide-ranging use of the term. It argues that nostalgia often does not adequately describe the diverse uses of the past to which it is applied. It does this by historicizing the nostalgia discourse with particular emphasis on the 1970s, when dictionaries first noted a semantic shift from homesickness to a sentimental yearning for the past, and intellectuals discussed a widespread, pathological “nostalgia wave.” After the introduction, the second section looks at the changing meanings of nostalgia, the third examines how the “nostalgia wave” was seen to manifest itself and who was thought to be afflicted by it, and the fourth discusses contemporary explanations. Building on this, the final section critically examines the nostalgia discourse before evaluating its continuing influence.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


Nostalgia and the Turbulence of Times

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 249-266

The concept of nostalgia has an invaluable advantage: In contrast to other cultural concepts, it has an exact date of birth. It was in 1688 when the medic Johannes Hofer published a thesis in which he described an illness he termed with the neologism “nostalgia.” But instead of following the academic and larger cultural discourses that evolved from this starting point until the present, the question that deserves some attention is which temporal setting goes along with the concept of nostalgia. Most of the experts on nostalgia as a sickness during the last three and a half centuries did not diagnose themselves but others, quite often patients from rural areas who had to leave home to work abroad, where they became nostalgic. With this diagnosis these experts also established a certain time-model, because they separated a “modern” time-model of irreversibility from a “nostalgic” time-model of reversibility. If we take a closer look at the nostalgia diagnosis and its consequences, we might also gain some ideas for our thinking about the theory of history.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


The Nostalgias for Empire

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 267-283

The aim of this article is to explore the theoretical and practical differences between colonial and imperial nostalgia. It opens with a substantial theoretical discussion of the relevant scholarship followed by an analysis of the nostalgias of empire. Nostalgia, in relation to empire, is usually analyzed as a longing for a period of former imperial and colonial glory, thus blurring the various hegemonic practices associated with empire. This elision arises out of the fact colonialism was integral to European imperialism. Yet there is a significant distinction between imperial and colonial nostalgia. With its main focus on postcolonial society in France and Britain, the article will theorize the differences between them, arguing that one is connected to the loss of global power and the other to the loss of a socioeconomic lifestyle. It will explore the way in which these two types of nostalgia are constructed and historicized, examining their differences from historical memory through the responses of both former colonizing and colonized individuals or groups. It will demonstrate that collective nostalgia is not merely a “feel-good” sentiment about an idealized political or socioeconomic past, but can be readily connected to coming to terms with past trauma(s) thus being a mechanism to elide violence experienced and violence perpetrated by highlighting one to the detriment of the other.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

Review Essays:          

HAUN SAUSSY on McComas Taylor, Seven Days of Nectar: Contemporary Oral Performance of the Bhagavatapurana

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 284-289

McComas Taylor’s Seven Days of Nectar offers a contrastive description of three seven-day performances of the traditional Sanskrit text Bhāgavatapurāna in different locations and with different sponsorship, bringing out the special characteristics of each as a variant of living textual practice. The book also contains reports of interviews with reciters, detailing their backgrounds, education, and aspirations. This performance tradition has prospered under globalization, due to its place in a gift economy of prestige and to the desire on the part of sponsors to confirm their membership in a religious and national community.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

PATRICK H. HUTTON on Jeffrey Andrew Barash, Collective Memory and
            the Historical Past

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 290-303

Philosopher Jeffrey Barash seeks to clarify the concept of collective memory, which has taken on wide-ranging meanings in contemporary scholarship. Returning to the original insight of sociologist Maurice Halbwachs during the 1920s, he grounds the concept in the living social memory of the present, whose sphere is widened by its capacity to draw upon a past beyond its ken through the symbolization of its remembrance. He offers two preliminary propositions: first, there is a history to the way philosophers have contextualized collective memory through the ages; second, there is a politics in the transmission of collective memory, highly visible in the uses of memory by mass media in the contemporary age. He builds his argument around four interrelated interpretations concerning: the ever more circumscribed role attributed to collective memory in the passage from antiquity into modernity; the dependence of collective memory upon living memory; the rising power of media to mold collective memory to present purposes; and historical understanding vis-à-vis evocation of collective memory as oppositional ways of accessing the past. I close with commentary that places Barash’s philosophical interpretation within the context of contemporary historiographical practice, with particular attention to the scholarship of French historian Pierre Nora on the French national memory, and that of German scholars Jan and Aleida Assmann on the preservation and transmission of memorable cultural legacies.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

DAVID CARR on Steven G. Smith, Full History: On the Meaningfulness of Shared Action

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 304-311

Steven G. Smith advocates a maximal approach to history by both historians and theorists of history, maintaining that a commitment to fullness or totality should always serve as an ideal. In my review, I try to explain what the author means by this ideal, and consider how practical such an ideal can be. He further maintains that history is mostly about shared action, and is itself an instance of shared action. I have certain reservations about this notion, though I think Smith’s book deserves credit for calling attention to it.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

ALISON BASHFORD on Yuval Noah Harari, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind

History and Theory 57, no. 2 (June 2018), 311-320

The popularity of books such as Yuval Noah Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind suggests that universal history-writing has a continuous not a broken past. Rather than “returning,” it is perhaps the most enduring genre of all. This review essay explores the deep-history element of universal histories and the ongoing purchase of the stadial tradition for a new history of the species. Why are deep histories of the species so reliably appealing, and what do they mean in the twenty-first century? Although the Anthropocene would seem to be the pertinent context for this ongoing historiography, this essay suggests that the new domain of genetic genealogy powerfully individualizes and commercializes deep history for neoliberal times.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


The Seventh History and Theory Lecture


Anthropocene Time

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 5-32

Beginning with the question of how a sense of geological time remains strangely withdrawn in contemporary discussions of the Anthropocene in the human sciences and yields place to the more human-centered time of world history, this article proceeds to discuss the differences between human-historical time and the time of geology as they relate to the concept of the Anthropocene. The article discusses the difficulty of developing a mode of thinking about the present that would attempt to hold together these two rather different senses of time and ends with a ground-clearing exercise that might enable the development of such thought.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top




A Retrieval of Historicism: Frank Ankersmit’s Philosophy of History and Politics

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 33-55

Frank Ankersmit is often perceived as a postmodern thinker, as a European Hayden White, or as an author whose work in political philosophy can safely be ignored by those interested only in his philosophy of history. Although none of these perceptions is entirely wrong, they are of little help in understanding the nature of Ankersmit’s work and the sources on which it draws. Specifically, they do not elucidate the extent to which Ankersmit raises questions different from White’s, finds himself inspired by continental European traditions, responds to specifically Dutch concerns, and is as active as a public intellectual as he has been prolific in philosophy of history. In order to propose a more comprehensive and balanced interpretation of Ankersmit’s work, this article offers a contextual reading based largely on Dutch-language sources, some of which are unknown even in the Netherlands. The thesis advanced is that Ankersmit draws consistently on nineteenth-century German historicism as interpreted by Friedrich Meinecke and advocated by his Groningen teacher, Ernst Kossmann. Without forcing each and every element of Ankersmit’s oeuvre into a historicist mold, the article demonstrates that some of its most salient aspects can profitably be read as attempts at translating and modifying historicist key notions into late twentieth-century categories. Also, without creating a father myth of the sort that White helped create around his teacher William Bossenbrook, the article argues that Ankersmit at crucial moments in his intellectual trajectory draws on texts and authors central to Kossmann’s research interests.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top



Texts on the Move: Textuality and Historicity Revisited

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 56-74

The last time texts were brought onto the general theoretical and methodological agenda of the human and social sciences, they were reintroduced into history in terms of an indefinite set of indefinitely complex contexts, which gave every text a specific date and location in a network of other texts and events. A couple of decades later, however, a more prominent feature of texts seems to be that they are permanently on the move: they circulate, have effects on other things, change and transform realities, and are at the same time themselves translated and modified. In the literature exploring the textuality of history, these dimensions have been under-theorized and often ignored. To meet this challenge, we need to develop concepts and approaches that enable us to place the mobility of texts as well as their mobilizing force at the center of our current historical concerns. In this article we will explore what the consequences of this move could be, and what resources are already at hand in different scholarly traditions. Exploring the entanglements between actor-network theory (ANT in the version of Bruno Latour), on the one hand, and literary criticism, linguistics, and book history, on the other, enables us to focus on how texts move and how they move others. We will proceed in this essay by identifying three decisive moments in twentieth- and twenty-first-century textual scholarship, often conceptualized as “turns,” which are linked to the works of three path-breaking authors and which at the same time represent three different stages or forms of textuality: the linguistic turn (Saussure), the turn to writing (Derrida), and the turn to print (Eisenstein). Our discussions of these three moments and forms of textuality aim at uncovering how they also represent seminal moments in Bruno Latour’s development of the theoretical and methodological complex now referred to as ANT.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top



Story Makes History, Theory Makes Story: Developing Rüsen’s Historik in Logical and Semiotic Directions

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 75-103

This essay will argue that the traditional opposition between narrative and theory in historical sciences is dissolved if we conceive of narratives as theoretical devices for understanding events in time through special concepts that abridge typical sequences of events. I shall stress, in the context of the Historical Knowledge Epistemological Square (HKES)that emerged with the scientization of history, that history is always narrative, story has a theoretical ground of itself, and scientific histories address the need for a conceptual progression in ever-improved narratives. This will lead to identification of three major theoretical levels in historical stories: naming, plotting (or emplotment), and formalizing. We revisit Jörn Rüsens theory of history as the best starting point, and explore to what extent it could be developed by (i) taking a deeper look into narratological knowledge, and (ii) reanalyzing logically the conceptual strata in order to bridge the overrated Forschung/Darstellung (research/exposition) divide. The corollary: we should consider (scientific) historical writing as the last step of historical research, not as the next step after research is over. This thesis will drive us to a reconsideration of the German Historik regarding the problem of interpretation and exposition. Far from alienating history from science, narrative links history positively to anthropology and biology. The crossing of our triad name-plot-model with Rüsen’s four theoretical levels (categories-types-concepts-names) points to the feasibility of expanding Rüsen’s Historik in logical and semiotic directions. Story makes history, theory makes story, and historical reason may proceed.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


Review Essays:

JOHANNES LANG on Jan Plamper, The History of Emotions: An Introduction and Ute Frevert et al., Emotional Lexicons: Continuity and Change in the Vocabulary of Feeling 1700–2000

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 104-120

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, there was a growing sense that historians had neglected the emotions and failed to think seriously about them. Since then, there has been explosive interest in the history of emotions. What precipitated this development? What has this focus on emotion added to our historical understanding, and what does a historical perspective contribute to research on emotion? Two recent books help us think about these questions. In The History of Emotions, Jan Plamper offers the first book-length introduction to this field available in English; in Emotional Lexicons, Ute Frevert and a group of fellow historians trace continuities and change in the vocabulary of feeling from the beginning of the eighteenth century to the end of the millennium. At stake, in both books, is the idea that emotions are historically contingent—that history has the ability to shape and transform even the most basic features of human experience. This review essay engages with the central arguments of these books, and offers a somewhat different interpretation of the history of emotions. What is called for, the essay suggests, is not first and foremost a separate history of emotions nor the adding of emotion to existing histories, but new histories that systematically incorporate emotions into their analyses. Historians should seek to demonstrate how emotions are an integral part of history and historiography in a more general sense. Systematic attention to emotions not only adds nuance to a historical narrative, the essay concludes, but also fundamentally affects our ideas about how history actually happens.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


PAUL A. ROTH on Robert Doran, ed., Philosophy of History after Hayden White

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 121-136

The title of Robert Doran’s collection of essays on Hayden White proves provocative and evocative. Provocative because it claims to mark a move within philosophy that pivots on the work of Hayden White, and this despite the fact that White himself explicitly resists inclusion within such a classification, that is, as a philosopher of history. Indeed, another contributor, Arthur Danto, had as of 1995 declared passé the whole subfield of philosophy of history. Doran situates White, then, in a niche White rejects and in any case one largely abandoned by those who do academic philosophy. Thus a question that this title evokes concerns why—whatever philosophy of history happens to be before Hayden White—after him it becomes a topic of philosophical lack of interest, one pursued almost exclusively by those not associated with departments of philosophy. Given White’s professional travails, his acquaintance with another undisciplined academic, Richard Rorty, and his long-standing friendship with preeminent philosophers of history such as Louis Mink, one might well assume that White eschews Doran’s disciplinary labeling for a reason. In this regard, reframing him as this book’s title does invites a worry that, if only unwittingly, the book elides discussion of why certain positions excite not merely disagreement but prompt rather a type of professional shunning. In failing to confront White’s reception (or rather lack thereof) by historians and his position (or rather lack thereof) within philosophy, Doran passes over in silence a highly salient aspect of White’s work.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


DAVID P. JORDAN on Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 137-148

The argument here is that despite the many similarities of writing the history of ancient Rome, whether the Republic or the Empire, there are stark and significant differences between Edward Gibbon and Mary Beard. In part this is a matter of style and literary genius. It is also evidence of a vast cultural difference, reflected in changing attitudes about writing history and its importance. Beard is impatient with Gibbon’s oratorical formality and conceits. Her own writing is easy and unmannered. These literary habits are determined by audience as well as personality. Gibbon addresses the English ruling class and enlightened opinion. His concerns are politics, religion, and law—the interests of his readers who governed and shaped opinion. Beard is more interested in the private and personal, subjects that until recently had only a marginal place in historical writing. She relies heavily on sources that were unknown to Gibbon, and might not have interested him anyhow. Her style mirrors these concerns. She does not assume her readers have had a Classical education nor that they know the general outlines of Roman history. She has little or no tolerance for Gibbon’s obsession with religion, and, at least in SPQR, slight interest in either paganism or the rise of Christianity. Her thousand-year slice of history—Gibbon also tackled a millennium—stops well short of Gibbon’s broad philosophical vision of Rome as the cradle of Europe. These contrasts in style, taste, sources, and personality are not offered in judgment, but as commentary on the continuing vitality of Roman history.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


DANIEL GORDON on Bernard-Henri Lévy, The Genius of Judaism and Amos Oz and Fania Oz-Salzberger, Jews and Words

History and Theory 57, no. 1 (March 2018), 149-165

Both of the books under review focus on the tradition of Jewish scholarship and debate. The Genius of Judaism is written from a religious perspective, whereas the authors of Jews and Words envision a future in which Jews live without Judaism; they see Jewishness as a culture that can be divorced from religion. For Lévy, a sense of the divine—including the concept of being a chosen people—is the source of Jewish identity and historical continuity. Lévy also argues that the Jews are chosen to serve non-Jews. Inspired by the prophet Jonah, Lévy undertook diplomatic missions in the Ukraine and in Libya, and I consider the lessons he draws from these missions. I also discuss the relationship of Judaism to various concepts in the philosophy of history: revolution, progress, messianism, and utopianism, as well as the affinity between Judaism and skepticism.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top


Philip Dwyer and Joy Damousi

Theorizing Histories of Violence

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 3-6

 No abstract

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

Philip Dwyer

Violence and its Histories: Meanings, Methods, Problems

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 7-22

Violence has evolved over the past few decades into one of the leading interpretive concepts in history. And yet there few critiques of it to speak of, and no clear-cut methodology on how to do the history of violence. This article takes a more critical view of violence as a field of historical research by questioning some of the approaches and methods adopted until now. It examines some meanings of violence and the difficulties involved in defining it, discusses some of the trends that have emerged from the history of violence, and offers some suggestions about how to approach the topic from a different perspective. It argues for a cultural, constructed interpretation of violence that not only involves understanding behaviors, but also narratives and discourses of violence that help both define and shape people’s attitudes. 

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

Stuart Carroll

Thinking with Violence

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 23-43

This article addresses the assumptions that have underpinned historical writing about violence. It identifies a growing disconnect between mainstream historical practice and a new form of “comfort history” written for a popular audience largely by nonhistorians. It explores the reasons for this disconnect by looking at history’s engagement with four other disciplines: psychology, historical sociology, anthropology, and evolutionary psychology. It concludes by showing what the possibilities are for a more open dialogue between historians and social scientists and scientists.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top

Morten Oxenbøll

Epistemologies of Violence: Medieval Japanese War Tales

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 44-59

Although violence is one of the most primitive means of communication, appropriate aggression is nevertheless something that needs to be learned. But even though scholars of various disciplines agree that violence is deeply embedded in cultural structures, there has been a remarkable lack in scholarship on how the conscious differentiation between appropriate and inappropriate violence is learned through mediated representations of violence. By applying media theories and works on social learning to premodern Japanese material, I argue that mediated violence can create a “safe space” where different forms of violence can be experienced without the physical consequences of real violence. Mediated violence thus serves crucial functions as learning spaces where societal rules and norms can be temporarily suspended, reconfigured, and often reinforced through active experimentation without the danger of bodily harm. Brutal and graphic depictions of violence thus go beyond mere entertainment. By aestheticizing and staging good and bad violence, mediated violence invites its audiences to reflect on and learn from violent episodes. Violent representations reduce the complexities of real-world conflicts, thereby facilitating a process where audiences can make sense of—and create order out of—chaos. Through the use of epistemological theories, I argue that such simplifications are necessary for human cognitive systems to be able to relate to and learn from violence, and that this learning process takes place within a social and collaborative context.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Penny Roberts

French Historians and Collective Violence

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 60-75

French historians and French history have dominated the study of early modern violence. This essay addresses why this is so and what has characterized French historians’ approaches to collective violence in particular, whether in the form of popular revolt, confessional division, or revolutionary violence. It posits that historians are essentially uncomfortable in defending and explaining popular violence in the past, that they ought to address this issue more directly and not to establish too much cultural distance from their subjects in doing so. It concludes with some reflections on approaches to violence in the past and the present, how historians and others talk about and engage with violence, and how its treatment today should inform how historians address the challenges of writing the history of violence in the future.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Dan Edelstein

Red Leviathan: Authority and Violence in Revolutionary Political Culture

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 76-96

As Mao euphemistically remarked, revolutions are not dinner parties. Violence is to be expected when political regimes are overturned. But the violence that accompanied modern revolutions is remarkable for the fact that it targeted fellow revolutionaries almost as often as declared opponents. Why is this? In this essay, I suggest that the reason has to do with a specific feature of revolutions that abandon constitutional forms of political legitimacy. These revolutions, following the precedent of the French “revolutionary government” (1793–94) and Marx’s model of a “revolution in permanence,” tend to base the authority of their governments on the fulfillment of revolutionary expectations. This creates a political culture in which authority derives from the power to define what these expectations are, and what “revolution” means (much like Hobbes’s sovereign had the power to set the meaning of words). But revolutionary culture does not leave room for Rawlsian pluralism. “There can be no solution to the social problem but mine,” proclaims the revolutionary ideologue in Dostoyevsky’s The Possessed, expressing the law of the Red Leviathan. Such a system does not allow for loyal opposition. Accordingly, the specter of counterrevolution always hovers above disagreements between fellow revolutionaries. The purge thus becomes the necessary method for settling ideological differences.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Enzo Traverso

Totalitarianism between History and Theory

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 97-118

Born in Italy at the beginning of the 1920s, the concept of totalitarianism experienced an uninterrupted succession of metamorphoses and changes throughout the twentieth century, until its last rebirth after September 11, 2001, when it was remobilized in the struggle against Islamic terrorism. It is an astonishingly plastic, resilient, and inevitably ambiguous concept, insofar as it merges both politics and scholarship, and belongs, with a different meaning, to almost all currents of thought. Born in the political struggle, it shifted successfully to political theory in which, beyond their discrepancies, most of its interpreters defined it as a new form of power that exceeds the classical categories of political theory running from Aristotle to Max Weber—despotism, tyranny, dictatorship—and grounded in a combination of ideology and terror. The migration of this concept to the field of historical studies, however, was much more controversial. Useful in defining the nature and forms of political regimes, and eventually to establish their typology, “totalitarianism” becomes a problematic, limited, not to say useless concept for analyzing their origins, developments, and fall. On the one hand, it favors a selective historical comparison between different political regimes; on the other hand, it simply juxtaposes them, stressing some analogies but neglecting other fundamental dimensions of historical investigation (origins, duration, ideologies, and social basis). This article is a plea for critical use of this category, which implies both a rejection of its recurrent ideological uses and its integration with the achievements of social and cultural history.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Joy Damousi

Mothers in War: “Responsible Mothering,” Children, and the Prevention of Violence in Twentieth-Century War

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 119-134

The key concern of this article is to explore how the history of twentieth-century violence forces us to reflect on how we interpret the acts of those who find themselves attempting to prevent violence, as mothers have done in relation to their children, in the context of violence and atrocity. A focus on mothers and maternity redirects our analysis to gendered aspects of a history of violence and war that do not concentrate solely on bodily violent acts or physical inflictions upon women—crucial as these remain to histories of violence—but shifts the attention to examining women and violence within another aspect: that of women as active agents negotiating violent contexts. It builds on the considerable scholarship that argues that mothers in war have invariably been represented only as victims or spectators in war, and yet they have also demonstrated agency both individually and collectively. This is significant because to ignore this dimension of scholarly endeavor misses an opportunity to write women into histories of violence in ways that complicate their role in war and make them central to the story. To marginalize mothers in the broader canvas of war and violence, as scholarship often does, is also to narrow our focus of understandings of agency and the negotiation of violence itself. I explore these wider questions by focusing on the cataclysmic events of war, in the first instance in the context of a total war in the early twentieth century, the First World War, and in the second—the Greek Civil War—a civil war that took place in mid-century. Although these are vastly different conflicts, they both illuminate the decisions of mothers to attempt to prevent further violence in war, especially in relation to their children, and to highlight the contested notion of “responsible motherhood” in war.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Joanna Bourke

Theorizing Ballistics: Ethics, Emotions, and Weapons Scientists

History and Theory 56, no. 4, Theme Issue 55 (December 2017), 135-151

What is violence? This article explores conceptions of violence from the perspective of scientists engaged in weapons research. Ballistics scientists are routinely excluded from the “violent” label on grounds of class, status, education, and emotional comportment. The article analyzes the science of ballistics through the lenses of ethics and emotions. How do scientists justify experiments in ballistics, or the science of designing weapons and other technologies aimed at destroying environments and inflicting wounds (often fatal) and other forms of injury on people and nonhuman animals? In stark contrast to those who analyze weapons development as an objective science and who impart violent agency to autonomous technologies, I situate wound ballistics as a branch of applied moral philosophy. Its practice always involves an “ought.” Although the central job of ballistics scientists is the “effective production of wounds,” this is not regarded as violent, except by their victims, of course. In part, this lacuna is due to an ideological relationship forged between “violence” and particular emotional states. It is also part of a political project defining “the human.”

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing || top 

Serge Grigoriev

Hypotheses, Generalizations, and Convergence: Some Peircean Themes in the Study of History

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 339-361

This essay examines the relationship among some key elements of Charles Sanders Peirce’s general theory of scientific inquiry (such as final causality, real possibility, methodological convergence, abductive reasoning, hypothesis formation, and diagrammatic idealization) and some prominent issues discussed in the current philosophy of history, especially those pertaining to the role of generalizations in historical explanation. The claim is that, appropriately construed, Peirce’s recommendations with respect to rational inquiry in general can provide a reasonable basis for formulating a productive critical method for a responsible philosophy of history. The essay further seeks to reduce the tension between Peirce’s interest in epistemic convergence and the arguments that champion the value of historical distance and perspectival pluralism. On the account offered, the kind of methodological convergence envisioned by Peirce need not conflict necessarily with a responsibly construed historical pluralism. On the other hand, the critical perspective of an epistemically disciplined philosophical inquiry may prove indispensable in weeding out wishful but unrealistic ideological perspectives from the writing of history. Hence, the resulting proposal envisions the critique of historical imagination as one potentially viable modality for the pragmatist philosophy of history.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Federico Finchelstein

Carl Schmitt between History and Myth 

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 362-369

Carl Schmitt’s work defines the history and theory of political myth. But analyzing it represents a challenge to historians and theorists alike. For many historians, Schmitt should be analyzed in his own context, whereas theorists study his writings without enough consideration of the specific context in which he conceived his texts. In this essay, I argue that Schmitt not only contributed to the fascist glorification of the mythical and its novel enactment as the driving force of fascism, but he also represents one of the most intriguing and influential interpreters of the political theory of myth, challenging in turn theories of democracy and the role of reason and secularism in historiography.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Enzo Traverso

Confronting Defeat: Carl Schmitt between the Victors and the Vanquished  

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 370-378

Quoting a text on Tocqueville written by Carl Schmitt in 1946, Reinhart Koselleck hypothesized about the epistemological advantage of being vanquished in writing history. This essay analyzes Schmitt’s intellectual and political positions in reaction to three successive defeats: the collapse of the German Empire in 1918; the end of the Weimar Republic in 1933; and the overthrow of the Third Reich in 1945. Schmitt was a German nationalist and, at least until Hitler’s rise to power, an anti-Nazi conservative, but he easily adapted to both the Weimar Republic in 1919 and National Socialism in 1933, two political turns that coincided with significant improvements in his academic career. He felt vanquished only in 1945, after his double imprisonment, the Nuremberg trial, and finally his retirement to Plettenberg. 1945 was a watershed that he symbolized through two metaphorical figures: the reactionary thinker of Spanish Absolutism Juan Donoso Cortés and Melville’s literary character Benito Cereno. Thus, the case of Carl Schmitt does not confirm Koselleck’s hypothesis, insofar as the most productive and creative part of his intellectual life does not fit into an awareness of being vanquished. Koselleck’s statement deals with the gaze of the ruled, whereas Schmitt belonged to a different tradition of political thinkers interested in building domination and smashing revolution (Hobbes, Maistre, Donoso Cortés). He was a thinker of action, not of mourning. Defeat did not inspire, but rather paralyzed his thought.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

María Pía Lara

Carl Schmitt’s Contribution to a Theory of Political Myth 

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 379-388

My goal in this essay is to show that myths have played a larger role than we might think in politics and in political theory and that myths are essential to politics. For this purpose I will use Schmitt’s theory of myth, since he elaborated his theory with strong interpretations of two different myths: Hobbes’s Leviathan and Shakespeare’s Hamlet. I will compare Schmitt’s interpretations of Hamlet with my own, as doing so will provide a critical view of Schmitt’s conclusions, and it will enable me to develop my own conception of myth and its relations to political theory and history.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Benjamin Claude Brower

Partisans and Populations: The Place of Civilians in War, Algeria (1954–62)

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 389-397

Carl Schmitt’s influential text The Theory of the Partisan (1963) serves in this article to read the history of civilians in modern warfare, examining the case of Algeria (1954–62). Schmitt’s argument that the partisan leads to a dangerous conceptual blurring in war, confusing soldier and civilian, friend and enemy, reveals important questions about the war, questions that are otherwise invisible in conventional readings of the archives. Notably it places in relief the figure of the “population,” a way that the French military conceptualized Algerian civilians and their place on the battlefield. The article argues that the population, as constituted in military theory, needs to be understood as the partisan’s partner in contributing to the normlessness of violence. This offers both a new reading of the war in Algeria and the violence suffered by civilians, as well as a correction to Schmitt’s politically one-sided explanation of the problem of normlessness and modern warfare. Whereas Schmitt’s revolutionary partisan is a figure of the left, the notion of the population originated among counter-revolutionary French officers who rethought war in an effort to stop decolonization and reshape their own society along military lines. For them Algerian civilians served as a primary weapon against the National Liberation Front (FLN) by breaking up the nationalists’ claim to lead a single, undivided, and sovereign Algerian people. In effect, the notion of the population made Algerian civilians appear as potential enemies to the FLN, blurring the nationalists’ own understanding of the political configuration of the war, directly exposing civilians to its violence.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Matthew Specter

Grossraum and Geopolitics: Resituating Schmitt in an Atlantic Context

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 398-406

Contemporary theorists of international relations and historians of empire have found utility in the spatial theory of “Grossraum,” or “great space,” that Carl Schmitt developed in the 1930s and 40s. This article asks whether Schmitt’s concept of Grossraum can be fully disentangled from its German history—from the Nazi pursuit of Lebensraum in which it eventually culminated, but with which it is not identical either. I argue that Schmitt’s Grossraum theory is neither merely a symptomatic reflection of the Third Reich’s objectives, nor a free-floating theory with strong potential for critiquing imperialism, but is best approached as an important moment in the transatlantic conversation among empires that unfolded between 1890 and 1945 about the sources, methods, and prerogatives of global power. It compares Schmitt with other figures in German geopolitics such as Friedrich Ratzel and Karl Haushofer in order to establish a genealogy of the distinction between land and sea powers, arguing that Schmitt’s writings on Grossraum modernize and transmit to the twentieth century the most influential theories of political geography and geopolitics developed in the Atlantic world between 1890 and 1930.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Hans Ruin on Thomas Laqueur, The Work of the Dead: A Cultural History of Mortal Remains

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017),  407-417

Thomas Laqueur has brought together half a century of research on modern European mortuary culture into an impressive narrative of how the Christian churchyard was replaced by the modern cemetery, how interment was partly replaced by the technology of cremation, and how writing and preserving the names of the dead coincided with democratization and social reform. Beyond the grand narrative of the history of modern burial, he also shows how the modern culture of history and memory is intertwined with the transformation of mortuary practices. On a deeper level, he points toward new ways of conceptualizing the relation between the living and the dead, leading up toward, if not fully confronting, the challenge that propels his own endeavor, namely the existential-ontological predicament of living after those who have been and the nature of spectrality.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top


Richard J. Bernstein on Martin Jay, Reason after Its Eclipse: On Late Critical Theory

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 418-432   

Martin Jay’s sweeping account of reason in Western philosophy provides the context for understanding the crisis that the Frankfurt School thinkers faced when they spoke of the “eclipse of reason.” In the background of the thinking of the first generation of Frankfurt thinkers such as Max Horkheimer, Theodor Adorno, and Herbert Marcuse is a hankering for a more substantive conception of reason that bears affinities with what Hegel called Vernunft (reason), which he contrasted with Verstand (understanding). According to Jay, the first generation of Frankfurt thinkers never quite succeeded in elaborating this substantive concept of reason and grew increasingly pessimistic in the face of the self-destruction of reason. Habermas sought to elaborate a communicative theory of rationality that did not fall into the misleading promises of Hegelian Vernunft but could nevertheless provide a normative basis for the critique of instrumental, strategic, and systems rationality—a normative basis for critical theory. Jay presents an extremely lucid account of Jürgen Habermas’s theory of communicative rationality. He concludes by reviewing some of the outstanding problems and questions that have been raised about the adequacy and success of Habermas’s project. I seek to do justice to the strengths and weaknesses of Jay’s narrative, and I focus on a number of deep, unresolved issues that confront the future of critical theory in its attempt to develop an adequate conception of rationality. I also raise concerns about what precisely is distinctive about critical theory today.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top


Benjamin Aldes Wurgaft on Gavriel D. Rosenfeld, Hi, Hitler: How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 433-441  

In this review essay I explore the dynamics of “normalization” in historical and fictional depictions of the National Socialist past, examining both the “organic” normalization of catastrophic events through the passage of time, and efforts to normalize the Nazi past through aesthetics. Focusing on Gavriel Rosenfeld’s Hi, Hitler: How the Nazi Past is Being Normalized in Contemporary Culture, I argue against many dimensions of Rosenfeld’s account of normalization, particularly his claim that aesthetic normalization can undermine our moral judgments regarding the Holocaust. Drawing on Sigmund Freud on jokes, and Susan Sontag on Camp aesthetics, I argue that every effort to normalize the Holocaust, especially ones that work through humor and jokes (a major topic of Rosenfeld’s book), actually maintain the Holocaust’s status as a series of historical events resistant to “normalization.” If “normalization” is a process through which extraordinary, or morally charged, historical events lose their moral charge, then aesthetic efforts to normalize the Holocaust actually reinscribe the special moral status that Rosenfeld believes they erase.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top


Richard Eldridge on Branko Mitrović, Rage and Denials: Collectivist Philosophy, Politics, and Art Historiography, 1890–1947

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 442-451   

This review essay surveys and assesses Rage and Denials: Collectivist Philosophy, Politics, and Art Historiography, 1890–1947 by Branko Mitrović, focusing on a) Mitrović’s case that German art-historical practices during this period were factually ill-founded, inconsistent, and motivated by narcissism and ethnic prejudice, and b) the broader issue of whether collectivist historical explanations of artistic and cultural developments can ever be apt.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top


Dale A. Wilkerson on Christophe Bouton, Time and Freedom

History and Theory 56, no. 3 (September 2017), 452-465  

This essay reflects critically on Martin Heidegger’s remarks about authenticity and death with the aid of Christophe Bouton’s Temps et liberté (2002), translated by Christopher Macann as Time and Freedom (2014). It first raises general questions concerning the possible thematic relationship between human endeavoring (action) and the experiences of finitude and freedom. Heidegger’s Being and Time is particularly useful for exploring this relationship, but certain problems emerge when using this text for accessing the essay’s themes. To wit: there are good reasons for mistrusting readings of Being and Time as a “practical” guide for grounding action. Against the practical reading, the essay wishes to reclaim the ontological-existential significance of Heidegger’s text. Although Bouton’s treatment of Being and Time excludes its ontological dimensions and is entirely practical, even to the point of disregarding certain theoretical risks inherent in this approach, Bouton’s study is indispensable for situating Being and Time in a historical-intellectual context, whereby the experiences of freedom and time are understood within certain metaphysical presuppositions rendering them difficult to establish together on reliable grounds. Following Bouton’s lead, the essay shows that the hermeneutic differences between practical and ontological readings of Being and Time can be explored through reflections on what Heidegger might have meant by the term “Möglichkeit” (“possibility”), from which Bouton infers “freedom.” It is alleged that Bouton does not fully consider all of Heidegger’s assertions regarding Möglichkeit, most problematically the claim that the human being’s most essential “possibility” is its “impossibility,” that is to say, its death.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top


William Gallois

History Goes Walkabout 

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 165-194

Could the methods of history—and not just its objects of study—be decolonized? This essay explores analogous areas of cultural production, such as painting, to determine how historians might begin to produce work that lies outside the Western, Euro-Christian imaginary. It focuses on the case of Australia and the means by which Aboriginal artists have reanimated and recalibrated traditional forms of knowledge, offering new bases for thinking about the history and temporalities of Australia. The work of the painter Tim Johnson is then presented as an example for history in his demonstration of the ways in which indigenous methods and ways of seeing the world can be deployed by Others. The ethical, theoretical, and practical challenges that accompany such work are detailed, alongside a historiographical account of the way in which these discussions mesh with seminal debates in postcolonialism, subaltern studies, and settler colonialism as they relate to historical theory. Drawing on recent work in History and Theory, the article asks what might be the consequences for history were it not to develop a meaningful “global turn,” arguing that a critical moment has been reached in which modes of understanding the world that come from outside the West need to be incorporated into historians’ repertoires for thinking and making.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Stefan Eich and Adam Tooze

The Allure of Dark Times: Max Weber, Politics, and the Crisis of Historicism

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 195-213

This article argues that realist invocations of Weber rely on an unrealistic reading of Weber’s realism. In order to escape the allure of Weber’s dramatic posture of crisis, we place his seminal lecture on “Politics as a Vocation” (1919) in its historical and philosophical context of a revolutionary conjuncture of dramatic proportions, compounded by a broader crisis of historicism. Weber’s rhetoric, we argue, carries with it not only the emotion of crisis but is also the expression of a deeper intellectual impasse. The fatalistic despair of his position had already been detected by some of his closest contemporaries for whom Weber did not appear as a door-opener to a historically situated theory of political action but as a telling and intriguing impasse. Although the disastrous history of interwar Europe seems to confirm Weber’s bleakest predictions, it would be perverse to elevate contingent failure to the level of retrospective vindication.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Dimitri Ginev

Bernard Groethuysen’s Way of Coping with the “Problem of Historicism”

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 214-238

This article argues that Groethuysen’s creation of a new historiographical genre—the anonymous history of the formation of worldviews—was a response to the “problem of historicism” conceived of as a task of working out a concept of historicity beyond the relativism–objectivism dilemma. In scrutinizing Groethuysen’s implementation of phenomenology to study how basic historical phenomena have been experienced, the article draws a parallel with Heidegger’s response to historical relativism. In the main argument, Groethuysen’s combination of a new approach to the history of ideas and a historicized philosophical anthropology reveals the possibility of avoiding the depressing dilemma between metahistorical objectivism and historicist relativism by means of a double hermeneutics. In this regard, special attention is paid to Groethuysen’s phenomenological conception of narrative time.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Suman Seth

The Politics of Despair and the Calling of History

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 239-255

What happens to history as a set of practices and intellectual protocols when the assumed subject of our historical narratives is not a product of the European Enlightenment? Such has been the question motivating much of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work for almost thirty years. This essay offers a largely chronological account of Chakrabarty’s major works. It begins with his first book, published in 1989, which provided a culturalist account of working-class history in Bengal. It then tracks his movement in the early 1990s toward a position positing radical disjuncture and even incommensurability between the worlds of Indian subalterns and Western moderns, and his subsequent attempts to soften and blur precisely this kind of disjuncture. Meditating on the problems posed by the experiences of subjects who did not live within the time of history led him to answer in the affirmative the question of whether there are experiences of the past that history could not capture. Soon thereafter, however, he drew back from the most extensive articulation of this claim, suggesting that the experiences of the non-Enlightenment subject could function as a positive resource and not merely as the source of a profound and destabilizing critique. I argue here that this solution to the problem of incommensurability is not entirely satisfactory, for it relies implicitly on precisely the kinds of argumentative asymmetries of which his earlier analysis taught us to be wary. Chakrabarty himself, meanwhile, has continued to step further away from the radicalism of the early 1990s; his most recent book may be read as a defense of rationalist history in the face of contemporary threats posed by the rise of a politics of identity in India.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Berel Lang on Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner, and Todd Presner, eds., Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 256-264

Close analysis of the ostensive disagreement between Saul Friedländer and Hayden White on the necessarily literary character of Holocaust historiography shows instead of conflict two compatible and even mutually supportive emphases in that project: the assumption in modernist and disruptive narratives as elsewhere of a “corpus of facts” together with the role of figurative discourse in conveying relevant features of events that linear chronological or causal narratives alone do not convey.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Ewa Domańska on Susan Nance, ed., The Historical Animal

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 265-285

This review reflects on animal history as a subfield of the discipline of history and presents its main arguments and future tasks. Its main goal is to identify the new research prospects and potentials proposed by the book edited by Susan Nance, The Historical Animal. These include such topics as the problem of “the animal’s point of view,” animal agency (animals understood as “historical” agents and actors), the problem of identifying traces of animal actions in “anthropocentric” archives and searching for new historical sources (including animals’ testimonies). It also explores methodological difficulties, especially with the idea of the historicization of animals and the possible merger of the humanities and social sciences with the natural and life sciences. The review considers how studying animals forces scholars to rethink to its foundations history as a discipline. It claims that the most progressive proposals are coming from scholars (many of whom are historians) who advocate radical interdisciplinarity. The authors are not only interested in merging history with specific sciences (such as animal psychology, ecology, ethology, evolutionary biology, and zoology), but also question basic assumptions of the discipline: the epistemic authority claimed by historians for building knowledge of the past as well as the human epistemic authority for creating such knowledge. In this context several questions emerge: can we achieve “interspecies competence” (Erica Fudge’s term) for creating a multispecies knowledge of the past? Can research on animals’ perception of change help us to develop nonhistorical approaches to the past? Can we imagine accounts of the past based on multispecies co-authorship?

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Allan Megill and Jaeyoon Park on Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 286-304

In this book Jonathan Sperber deploys his extensive knowledge of nineteenth-century European social and political history, and his diligent research into sources that have become readily available only recently, to produce a substantial biography of Karl Marx. We find, however, that Sperber is mistaken in his treatment of Marx’s ideas and of the intellectual contexts within which Marx worked. In fact, we suggest that he is systematically mistaken in this regard. We locate a root source of the error in his reductive approach to theoretical ideas. In section I we focus on the claim, taken for granted in the book, that Marx’s ideas are instantiations of “materialism.” By detailed reference to the record of Marx’s writings, we show that there is no justification for describing Marx as a “materialist” in the usually accepted senses of that term. In section II we review how Soviet and other interpreters of Marx, taking their lead from the later Engels, insisted that “materialism” was fundamental to Marxism. We suggest that Sperber’s presentation of Marx’s thinking as “materialist and atheist” aligns far better with such interpretations than it does with what Marx actually wrote. In sections III and IV we criticize Sperber’s “contextualist” approach to dealing with ideas in history. His approach may seem reminiscent of Quentin Skinner’s, but where Skinner deploys the discursive conventions prevailing in a past time to illuminate theoretical ideas, Sperber reduces theoretical ideas to context. We name Sperber’s approach “theoretical nominalism,” a term that we use to denote the view that theoretical ideas are nothing but interventions into particular situations. We end by suggesting that greater attentiveness to philosophy and theory would have enriched Sperber’s efforts in this book.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

David Carr on Henning Trüper, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds., Historical Teleologies in the Modern World

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 305-315

The sixteen essays in this volume treat a broad array of topics related to the idea of teleology in history. The majority are not concerned with evaluating or even analyzing arguments for or against the teleological view of history. Their purpose is more to display the wide variety of teleological views. In their introduction, the editors speak of the Enlightenment origins of the teleological view of history, but the volume “seeks to explore that enlightened project . . . across its fragmentation and multiplication in the nineteenth century” (13). In fact, they believe that “the very idea that a single, however powerful, conception of time could function as the unifying principle of all modern historicity is cast in doubt. Our volume intends to expand on this doubt” (14). Thus, in addition to discussions of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, and so on, we learn about the Canudos revolt in Brazil, the Taiping rebellion in China, missionary writings in colonial India, John Brown, Scholem on Zionism, and much more. But this often fascinating profusion of microhistorical research suffers from considerable conceptual confusion. Terms like teleology, eschatology, providence, and messianism are not adequately distinguished. In my essay I point out that the teleological view of history does not date from the Enlightenment but is part of the religious tradition of the West. Many nineteenth- and twentieth-century versions discussed here simply continue or adapt these religious views. The puzzling question is why those modern thinkers who question or reject the idea of divine providence continue to think in teleological terms about history. This question, which could have served as an organizing principle for these essays, is for the most part not even addressed.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Jeffrey Andrew Barash on Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 316-328

This essay examines the concept and the discourse of collective memory in view of interpreting the novel function with which it has been endowed in recent decades and the problematic character of its interpretation. To this end, it focuses on the recent book by Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History, which examines the contemporary functions that collective memory has assumed in recent decades and takes into account interpretations of it elaborated in a number of seminal works that have set the framework for contemporary ways of understanding it. My investigation engages critical analysis of the psychological approach to collective memory that Cruz adopts, which, in interpreting recent public preoccupation with collective memory as an expression of trauma occasioned by the Holocaust and other horrific twentieth-century events, assumes that analogous psychic mechanisms govern forms of remembrance in the public sphere and memory in personal and small-group interaction. By taking into account alternate possibilities of interpretation, suggested above all by the public function of the mass media, I seek to widen the scope of enquiry to scrutinize in a broader perspective the contemporary role of collective memory and its political significance in the public realm.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Franz L. Fillafer 

A World Connecting? From the Unity of History to Global History

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 3-37

Global history looms large in current historiography, yet its heuristic design and political functions remain ill-reflected. My paper seeks to uncover the historical origins of the assumption that the “world” has one common history and that it is feasible and desirable to write it. I analyze the epistemic infrastructure underlying this assumption and argue that global history as practiced today is predicated on a specific practice of world-making that provides its basic template: Global history both grew out of and intellectually sustains the conception of an increasingly connected world. The type of connectedness thereby implied and reinscribed was established by what I call the “world-historical process," a cognitive framework that co-emerged with the early modern and modern European conquest of the world through expansion, discovery, commerce, and culture. The article traces how this process-template emerged out of the crisis of universal history that could no longer integrate and reconcile the multiple pasts of the world. I discuss the Enlightenment version of the interconnected planetary past and analyze its conceptual refurbishment by nineteenth-century historicism. I go on to flesh out what conceptual legacy this historicist mode of inquiry bequeathed to current global history: I show that it remains structured around the growing connectedness of previously distinct parts of the planet whose pasts are transformed into relevant world history by the very process that makes them increasingly interrelated. Global history may be too much a product of the process of globalization it studies to develop epistemologically and politically tenable alternatives to “connectivity."

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Ritwik Ranjan

Postcoloniality and the Two Sites of Historicity

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 38-53

This essay examines the two sites of historicity, namely history-writing and historical agency, and their interrelationship. I borrow the idea of “sites of historicity” from historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995). For the purpose of analyzing how the relationship between the two sites changes with time and context, using Trouillot’s theoretical lens, I examine the philosophies of history of Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. By citing instances from these two philosophers, I claim that with the rise of nineteenth-century colonialism, the two sites of historicity became discursively related in a specific way, whereby historical agency came to be predicated on history-writing. Hence, in contrast to Kant’s work, in Hegel’s philosophy of history the relationship between the two sites of historicity acquired a decidedly colonialist form. As a result of this predication of historical agency on history-writing, the alleged lack of historiography of certain cultures began to be considered as a token of their lack of political ability. The essay ends with the suggestion that the postcolonial thinkers and commentators who deal with historiography should challenge the foregoing predication, as it continues to inform contemporary thought concerning historiography.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Neilesh Bose

India in a  World: Dilemmas of Sovereignty

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 54-60

Azfar Moin’s The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam prompts a consideration not only of the histories of Islam and early modern connected histories of Central and South Asia, but also of current debates about local and global history-writing. Moin’s work intersects with a strand of comparative world history—following Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels—but also engages strands of historical anthropology, bringing to light a range of compelling stakes for global historians, historians of South Asia, and scholars of nationalism alike. Though Moin’s work pushes the boundaries of connected histories centered on South Asia, his focus on a trans-regional millennial science avoids questions of the local within new global histories.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Hussein Fancy

Of Sovereigns, Sacred Kings, and Polemics

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 61-70

In its emphasis on ritual and sacred kingship, Azfar Moin’s The Millennial Sovereign bears the imprint of anthropological theory, but Moin addresses this inheritance only obliquely. This essay seeks to draw out that tradition and to place theories of sovereignty and sacred kingship in their intellectual and historical context. Ultimately, it questions the value of these theories to the study of political authority.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Anne M. Blackburn

Buddhist Technologies of Statecraft and Millennial Moments

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 71-79

There are striking family resemblances between models and modes of kingship in the Safavid and Mughal worlds discussed by Azfar Moin and those that characterized Buddhist kingship in the premodern Indian Ocean arena, which encompassed polities including Poḷonnāruva, Dambadeṇiya, Koṭṭē, Bagan, Sukhothai, and Chiang Mai. In courtly contexts, Buddhists—operating at the intersection of intellectual traditions in Pali and Sanskrit languages—depended upon protective technologies including astrology and interpreted threats and prospects according to millennial science. Working comparatively, across the premodern Indian Ocean and Indo-Persian worlds, can help historians of Buddhism and Islam to understand more clearly the intellectual histories and repertoires of royal practice according to which kings and strongmen within each sphere sought to gain and retain the throne.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

David Gilmartin

Imperial Sovereignty in Mughal and British Forms

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 80-88

Azfar Moin’s recent work on millennial sovereignty in Mughal India prompts a consideration of the evolution of sovereignty in modern South Asia more broadly. Although the sovereign principles of the Mughals differed from those of the British Indian empire, which ultimately succeeded it, these empires shared important similarities in their linking of sovereign authority to visions of a cosmos in immanent interaction with human affairs. This article explores these similarities and differences and speculatively considers their implications for both similarities and differences in Mughal and British principles of statecraft. These similarities and differences provide an important backdrop for thinking about the meanings attached to popular sovereignty in modern India as well.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

A. Azfar Moin

Millennial Sovereignty, Total Religion, and Total Politics

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 89-97

Discussions of kingship and sovereignty in early modern India have struggled to fully comprehend and assess the work and life of Akbar (r. 1556–1605), the celebrated and most famous ruler of the Mughal Empire. The Mughal emperor’s incomparable energy and imagination had lit up, like never before in the history of Islam, the vast networks and institutions of knowledge and practice that could be deployed in the service of sacred kingship. Rather than demonstrate a local history of Indic kingship, Akbar’s intersections with networks and institutions show a history that stretched back centuries and linked South Asia to post-Mongol Iran and Central Asia, and were the crucibles in which a “millennial science” was cultivated. The implications for studying “millennial science” extend beyond the early modern world and into a consideration of sovereignty in modern South Asia.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Dominick LaCapra on Ivan Jablonka, L’histoire est une littérature contemporaine: Manifeste pour les sciences sociales

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 98-113

Ivan Jablonka seeks something other than a mere combination of history, social science, and literature. He would like history, itself understood as a social science, to be a literature of the real world. He is also interested in literature informed not only by the results but, more important, by the forms of reasoning and inquiry of history and related social sciences (notably anthropology and sociology). Jablonka’s own positioning within the Annales seems obvious, notably in his stress on cognition, problem-oriented research, and the status of history as a social science. But the attention and research devoted in the work of scholars in and around the Annales to the relations among history, literature, and fiction have not been pronounced, and in this context Jablonka inflects the understanding of history in relatively underdeveloped directions. Despite possible disagreements one may have over specific issues, Jablonka’s thought-provoking book raises very important questions, opens many significant avenues of inquiry, and seeks a desirable interaction between historical and literary approaches.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

David D. Roberts on Simon Susen, The “Postmodern Turn” in the Social Sciences

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 114-126

Recognizing that the vogue of postmodernism has passed, Simon Susen seeks to assess whatever enduring impact it may have had on the social sciences, including historiography. Indeed, the postmodern turn, as he sees it, seems to have had particular implications for our understanding of the human relationship with history. After five exegetical chapters, in which he seems mostly sympathetic to postmodernism, Susen turns to often biting criticism in a subsequent chapter. He charges, most basically, that postmodernists miss the self-critical side of modernity and tend to overreact against aspects of modernism. That overreaction is evident especially in the postmodern preoccupation with textuality and discourse, which transforms sociology into cultural studies and historiography into a form of literature. But as Susen sees it, a comparable overreaction has been at work in the postmodern emphasis on new, “little” politics, concerned with identity and difference, at the expense of more traditional large-scale politics and attendant forms of radicalism. His assessment reflects the “emancipatory” political agenda he assigns to the social sciences. Partly because that agenda inevitably affects what he finds to embrace and what to criticize, aspects of his discussion prove one-sided. And he does not follow through on his suggestions that postmodernist insights entail a sort of inflation of history or historicity. Partly as a result, his treatment of “reason,” universal rights, and reality (including historiographical realism) betrays an inadequate grasp of the postmodern challenge—and opportunity. In the last analysis, Susen’s understanding of the historical sources of postmodernism is simply too limited, but he usefully makes it clear that we have not put the postmodernist challenge behind us.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Joshua A. Fogel on Vera Schwarcz, Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China, and Beyond

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 127-137

Vera Schwarcz offers a penetrating examination of the concept and meaning of “truth” in China (antiquity to contemporary) and elsewhere (primarily in the Jewish tradition, from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary thinkers). Highly critical of the sharp turn toward cultural relativism which abandons the search for truth in the name of everyone having his or her own situated truths, she examines in particular how scholars, philosophers, and writers living in dark times have sought to cut through the enforced amnesia of oppressive regimes, especially that of post-1949 China. This broad-ranging search brings numerous great minds into a kind of trans-temporal, transcultural conversation, voices rarely, if ever, discussed between the covers of the same book.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Adam Dodd on Richard Grusin, ed., The Nonhuman Turn

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 138-145

This collection of nine essays brings together a variety of responses to the question of the “nonhuman turn” within the humanities and the social sciences, understood broadly as a developing concern with overcoming anthropocentrism in its diverse manifestations. Emerging from The Nonhuman Turn conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012, which was hosted by the Center for 21st Century Studies, it represents the first attempt to account for and consolidate the many intellectual approaches and developments that may now be regarded as constituting the nonhuman turn. The nonhuman turn is contextualized as both “yet another” turn but also a necessary one, and as something critically distinct from “the posthuman turn”—whereas the posthuman turn is concerned with what comes after the human (ways of being, ways of thinking), the nonhuman turn insists (according to editor Richard Grusin) that “we have never been human.” My reading of this volume suggests that this claim is not borne out across the chapters it contains, and that the notion that we have never been human, though a noble gesture to Bruno Latour’s widely lauded claim that “we have never been modern,” does not enable a new philosophy, nor does it advance the two primary streams of philosophical thought featured here: object-oriented ontology (OOO) and new materialism.

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top

Ines G. Županov on Katrina B. Olds, Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 146-159

Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain chronicles and unravels historiographical strands made of the complicated lives and afterlives of a set of manuscripts and printed books in defense of the Spanish church and its saints and martyrs against the Roman post-Tridentine reform of Christian sacred history. Olds studies one particular Jesuit historian, Jerónimo Román de la Higuera (1538–1611) and his notorious “falsos cronicones,” in which he rewrote and invented historical archives in order to prove the antiquity of Spanish Christianity. Olds’s enticing narrative and thorough research prove the point that forgery is also a “mode of historical writing,” and the only reproach one might level at this fine book is the narrow focus on Spain when it comes to discussing the reception of the Chronicles. Reading this book, however, inspires and raises larger questions, including the use of forgeries for patriotic (national) histories and the ethics of historical scholarship. By looking into recent statements by Sheldon Pollock, a philologist and intellectual historian of South Asia, and by Hayden White in his recent The Practical Past, this article argues that in spite of their different methodologies, they both converge in defining the task of a historian as doing something other than supporting national, patriotic, technocratic, and “market-oriented” agendas. 

JSTOR || Wiley Online Library || Return to Volume 56-60 Contents Listing  || top