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Historiography and Postmodernism: Reconsiderations Author(s): Perez Zagorin Source: History and Theory, Vol. 29, No. 3 (Oct., 1990), pp. 263-274 Published by: Blackwell Publishing for Wesleyan University Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2505051 Accessed: 16/12/2010 12:12
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Wisc. Some of the essays collected in a lately published volume arguing for the predominantly rhetorical character of history and the human sciences may also be taken as implying a similar position.. considering the current influence of postmodernism in some of the arts as well as in literary theory and other fields through its affiliation with deconstructionism."History and Theory 28 (1989). John S. though he is perhaps the first to do so explicitly. superior form of understanding of their discipline. Allan Megill. TheRhetoric of the Human Sciences (Madison. 3." Knowing& Telling History: TheAnglo-SaxonDebate. McCloskey. F. F. R. He has stressed the revolutionary import of White's ideas ascribing primacy in historical thinking to literary tropes and verbal structures. so they have likewise tended to reject White's linguistic 1. "The Dilemma of Contemporary Anglo-American Philosophy of History.Beiheft 25 (1986). Nelson. Ankersmit. and Donald N. Just as they opposed Hempel's scientism as a damaging misconception of the character of historical knowledge. "Historiographyand Postmodernism. most philosophers and philosophically-inclined historians have been decidedly critical of it. 137-153. Ankersmit recommending in a recent essay in History and Theory that historians should now adopt the perspective of postmodernism as the new. and has hailed his work as the wave of the future.HISTORIOGRAPHY AND POSTMODERNISM: RECONSIDERATIONS PEREZ ZAGORIN Historiographytoday has become so pluralistic and subject to the play of fashion that it need come as no surprise to find F. 2. Ankersmit. . 1987). The same tendency is evident among the disciples of Foucault.Historyand Theory. It is therefore noteworthy that in contrast to literary theorists.1 Such a move was only to be expected. when they have not simply ignored it. R.3 In his own article in this collection he appeared as an ardent advocate of the narrativist-rhetorical conception of historiography which Hayden White put forward in his Metahistory (1973) and subsequent writings. who have provided the majority of supporters of White's view. Ankersmit may not even be the first to have extended an embrace to postmodernism on behalf of historiography.2 Until now Ankersmit has been best known to readers of History and Theory as a contributor to a recent collection of essays dealing with current issues in Anglo-American discussions of the philosophy of history. R. Many historians in particular seem as resistant to it as they were previously to the Hempelian positivist covering-law doctrine of historical explanation.
Beiheft 19 (1980).The Realityof the HistoricalPast (Milwaukee. exhaustion. a strong sense of fatality and the irresistible hovers over the notion. Rather. it must be recognizedas an essentiallyhistoricistconception. Second. the criticalobservations andcautionsregarding White's viewsin Paul Ricoeur. 1984). I have and HistoricalRealism. Finally. Ankersmitacts as a philosophic trend-spotter who has his eye out for the latest thing. he greets its novelty as an inevitable development and makes its cause his own. postmodernism.too. I believe it is justifiable in this context)." as wellas Frederick A. it is important for the sake of clarity to stress several features generally associated with the theory or idea of postmodernism. cannot be withstood. is not only intent on recognizing what is new. he relates the latter to certain new situations and necessities that he believes leave us no choice but to accept it. Thus.264 PEREZ ZAGORIN turn and its rhetorical approach for its disregard and distortion of certain essential characteristics of historical inquiry and writing. along with an equal repudiation of the philosophy it calls logocentrism -the belief in the referentiality of language. owing to the conditions of contemporary society. and in the presence of a meaningful world to which language and knowledge are related.. No doubt some merit may be granted to an author who strives to discern the newest fashion in his discipline and bring out its implications. See. Foretelling. It represents a further step in the attempt to aestheticize history and sever it from its formerly accepted grounding in conditions of truth and reality.4 In his espousal of postmodernism. in the determinacyof textual meaning. a central element in postmodernism is its hostility to humanism. Yet it is striking that these postmodernist themes are unsustained by any feeling of elan or conviction of advance or progress. History and Theory. "ThePresuppositions "in Knowing& in his"Hermeneutics: Olafson's comments and'Dialectical. and WilliamH.1989)."Narrative in On Historyand Philosophyof History(Leiden. Wisc. 40-41.Although he offersno definition of postmodernism.' 'Analytical' TellingHistory. carries with it strong connotations of decline. particularly Maurice Mandelbaum's of Metahistory. the end of man. At the outset. and of being at the end ratherthan the commencement of an era. See some of the papers in Metahistory: Six Critiques. as Foucault wishfully predicted. In the following remarks I want to examine the validity of some of the claims and reasonshe advancesin behalf of his position. as its name implies. Ankersmit. Dray. He does not want to resist it as fallacious or harmful. Those who announce the advent of postmodernism regard it as an inevitable stage of present-day culture and a break with the past that. Ankersmit's postmodernism may be regarded as an extension of his earlier commitment to White's narrativist principles. however. the basic impulse of postmodernism lies in its repudiation of the values and assumptions of the precedinghigh modernist movement which revolutionized the arts of the twentieth century." fromconversations withhistorians also observed anddiscussions in seminars withdoctoral students on the philosophyof historythat theirresponseto White's and Tropics Metahistory of Discourse is generally unfavorable.33-34.7. First. like other historicists (although I know he would reject this designation.chap. . however. it rejects humanism as 4. On the contrary. but also identifies with it.
Whether our attitude toward it is one of celebration or moral revulsion. media society. Some of the features I have just noted are touched upon. despite the fact that capitalist society in its earliest appearance in the west is still less than two hundred years old. however. like Andy Warhol's paintings or the architecture of John Portman's Bonaventure Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. as a fundamental mutation in the sphere of culture reflecting the new multinational phase of world capitalism and its concomitant level of advanced technology which others have describedin such terms as the post-industrial or consumer society. it also criticizes as elitist and oppressive the idea of a canon.RECONSIDERATIONS 265 an outmoded relic and illusion of bourgeois ideology: the illusion of individuals creating their history through their free activity. The fact that he ascribes to some of these. or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. In the cultural domain as a whole it implies a total erasure of the distinction between high or elite culture and mass popular culture largely shaped and dominated by advertising and the commercial media. he believes it because his Marxist faith assures him of it. which both modernism and humanism hold stronglyin common. the working class. he contends. not only a representativeand symptomatic importance. This causes him to argue that Marxists and radicals who seek the transformation of society must abandon their moralizing condemnation of postmodernism and accommodate their theorizing and political strategy to its presence as the dominant cultural force in today's world. in a wideranging survey entitled "Postmodernism. The consequence is that postmodernism lends itself to a marked relaxation of cultural standards and sanctions an extreme eclecticism and heterogeneity without any critical or ordering principle. which it sees as merely a cover for bourgeois society's oppression of women. Jameson asks himself whether postmodernism is merely a passing fashion or only one of a number of alternative styles or trends. albeit in a much more favorable way. sexual deviants. just as it (falsely) assured Lenin before and after 1917 that imperialism was the final stage of capitalism and that European socialist revolutions were imminent. Jameson simply takes it for granted that it is in its late stage. with its necessary discrimination and hierarchizationamong the creations of culture. and therefore much younger than other types of society that have preceded or coexisted with it. Postmodernism and late capitalism are thus alike. subject in Jameson's historicist logic to the same inevitability. Moreover." In considering the bearings of postmodernism upon historiography. The firstthing to observeabout his discussion is the typically historicistcharacter it imputes to postmodernism as a periodizing category. by Frederic Jameson. a distinction that both modernism and humanism accepted as axiomatic. we must recognize it. As a corollary. a Marxian literary theorist. and colonized natives. But how does he know this? Needless to say. electronic society. he does not. Nevertheless. The most striking part of Jameson's treatment. it will be useful to look briefly at his account in order to enlarge our understanding of the concept of the postmodern. is its analysis of the postmodern as exemplified in a variety of contemporary cultural products drawn from a spectrum of the arts. and concludes that it is neither. non-whites. .
Such. 1983). disintegration of the time sense into a series of pure. which he tells us is spreading like a cancer and fills him with intense despondency. It trivializes history and renders it void of any intellectual responsibility. the affinity between them and his own point of view is unmistakable. all of which are dismissed as part of a superseded "essentialism.1986). the prevalence of pastiche and imitation and cannibalization of past styles. The historicist fatalism implicit in the theory of the postmodern is reflected in his belief that "autumn has come to Western historiography. Frederic Jameson."Instead. however. Literary to deconstructionism. Nevertheless. ed. disappearance of the autonomous individual and the death of the subject. 146(1984). as we all know. on postmodernism view. are far from convincing. 144. morever. he would recognize historiography as an aesthetic pursuit in which style is all-important (141-142. the historian would renounce the task of explanation and principle of causality. abandonment of the concept of truth as useless metaphysical baggage. in the great postwar expansion of higher education and university faculties. are among the leading characteristics and thematics of the postmodern as the inevitablyascendant style of the culture of late capitalism. a culture fixated upon the image. The logic and factual judgments which bring him to this conclusion. The literature Eagleton. They include the following: a new depthlessness and superficiality."Postmodernism." or the Cultural 5. loss of historicity and the past. What is significant. the waning of affect and disappearance of or liberation from emotion. The similarity between the two is further manifest in the conception of historiography Ankersmit proposes. unrelated presents. taking the literature on the philosopher New LeftReLogicof LateCapitalism.266 PEREZ ZAGORIN but also an artistic value which is highly debatable need not concern us. What stands out in Ankersmit's postmodernist concept of historiography is its superficiality and remoteness from historical practice and the way historians usually think about their work. is the constellation of generic traits his scrutiny of these works leads him to identify as synonymous with postmodernism. now that Europe since the end of World War II has ceased to be identical with world history and declined to an appendage of the Eurasian continent (150). Perhaps it is not very important that he fails to mention the reasons for this condition. In any case. 148-149). His point of departure is the present overproduction of historical writings. according to Jameson's perceptive observation. 150). in Postmodernism."which no longer has a theme or metanarrative.andtheessays . plus the necessity of publication imposed on academics as a prerequisite of career advancement. rather.53-92. LisaAppignanesi Theory (Minneapolis. According to his postmodernist philosophy. which are largely sociological in nature. for further is by now considerable. along with the idea of truth.5 Ankersmit would no doubt be unwilling to accept every one of these features as indicative of what he advocates as postmodernism. They lie. seeTerry discussion of whatit standsforandits relationship (London. The turning away from the past is apparent in his rejection of the importance of historical origin and context and in his conviction that evidence has nothing to do with a past reality but points only to the interpretations given by historians (145-146.no.
For another thing. But how.1988). craft.neverhas a mass of stultifyingtrivia. From this instance he infers that "we no longer have any texts. andthoughtin thepasthavehistorians written so competently. citedin PeterNovick. For one thing." Journal of the History of Ideas 51 (1990). but just interpretations of them" (137-138). H." 13. can the condition of historical overproduction deprive us both of the text and the past. chap. and insight which has not only widened our intellectual horizons but deepened and even transformed our knowledge of many areas of the past. leaving us only with interpretations? As it happens.377. Journalof ModernHistory57 (1985)." Journalof Contemporary History2 (1967). learning.Richard Kroll. Never into domainshithertoneglectedor in an obscurantist fully as theydo today.5-6. "Hobbes on OurMind. he notes that it has become so voluminous that Hobbes's text no longer possesses any authority and vanishes before its many interpretations. Hexter. to a large part of the historical profession. Cambridge University Press.317-335. A Historyof PoliticalThought in theEnglishRevolution (London. vigorously. like Ankersmit. andHobbes. if they merit it. while the phenomenon of historical overproduction may sometimes depress us and seem unmanageable. H. we may also take some comfort from the fact that its effect is usually counteracted over time by a selective process which relegates trivial publications to obscurity and insures that the more significant contributions will in due course become known to specialists and.and Sciencein the LaterSeventeenth Century.RECONSIDERATIONS 267 Hobbes as an example. Hexter pictured it in 1967 is even more the case today: 1.ThatNobleDream:The"Objectivity Question" and theAmerican Historical Profession(Cambridge and New York. there likewise exists in contrast a considerable body of work of exceptional originality.bringingeffectively to theirpredecessors. even twenty years ago it would not have been 6."Thomas Hobbes. Richard Ashcomingin Philosophy. PerezZagorin. What it means is that despite the burden of an increasing amount of mediocre and ephemeral historical work. any past." forthed. 7. in any event.Religion.the productof small it yieldedso enormousand suffocating matters mindsengagedin the congenialoccupationof writingbadlyabout insignificant to which they have given little or no thought and for which they feel small concern. treatingthe problemsthey confrontwith both a cathoaccessible of methodhithertowithoutprecedent amongpractilicityanda rigorand sophistication tionersof the historicalcraft. ." International "Clarendon Encyclopedia of theSocialSciences. history 2.593-616.6 I am sure most historians would agree with this appraisal. Neverin the past has the writingof historybeen so fatuousas it is today. Many things might be said about the troubling problem of the ever-growing quantity of historical publication without succumbing to the pessimistic opinion to which Ankersmit's spectacular illogic has led him."Cudworth and Hobbeson Is and Ought. In a recent essay I have attempted to survey the literatureconcerning Hobbes which has appeared in the last several years.1954). the situation as J. J.andPerez Zagorin.penetrating whollyinto bearon the recordof the past disciplines wayshunned. I too have had Hobbes as one of my special interests on which I have occasionally written. "Some American Observations.7Contrary to Ankersmit's assertion.
textual evidence (in which I include not only literary sources and philosophical texts. Two of the most widely discussed interpretations of Hobbes in the past generation have been Warrender'sand Macpherson's. interpretation does not eclipse the past. Wherever in any. by which is meant an understanding of the intellectual tradition. It would be superfluous to emphasize this point were it not for Ankersmit's curious discovery that in our postmodern age interpretation has abolished the text and the past. he would have needed to be familiar as well with other important contributions such as A. By now. who have judged them incompatible either with the meaning of Hobbes's text and the character of his beliefs or with a proper understanding of his society.268 PEREZ ZAGORIN sufficient for someone desiring to orient himself in the discussion of Hobbes's political philosophy to have read only Warrenderand Watkins. For those in particular who see the study of political philosophy as an essentially historical discipline. and conventions of political language within which Hobbes wrote. Yet. rather. some. Observing that in contemporary society information and interpretations continually increase as if . At the least he would also have had to know the classic work by Leo Strauss. insist on a reading fully grounded in the historical context.the latter. Oakeshott's introduction to his edition of Leviathan. of course. not to mention still other works that would be pertinent. he concentrates some of his remarks on the claim that interpretation has acquired a new status in postmodern historiography. comprehended as history. serves as a crucial test of the former's validity. and other thinkers has helped to reinstatethe problem of interpretationand hermeneuticunderstandingas a major issue in the philosophy of history. in both previous and more recent writings. as is almost too obvious to state. Ankersmit's essay throws no light on this subject. like Quentin Skinner. Instead. moreover. ideological and political situation. the second argued that Hobbes's conception of both the state of nature and the political order was a reflection of the nascent capitalist market society of competitive possessive individualism. Although the work of Gadamer. The first sought to explain Hobbes's theory of moral and political obligation as ultimately founded on the command of God. the text is always scrutinized and discussed as the foundation for any profferedinterpretativeconclusion. in their aim of recovering Hobbes's meaning and intention. but archival documents of all kinds) and contextual considerations are invariably central to the discussion. and David Gauthier's study of Leviathan. What I have said about Hobbes is no less true of the other areas of early modern British and European history with which I am familiar as part of my principal field of study. it is fair to say. the relationship between the text of Hobbes's political theory and its interpretations remains extremely close. For any claim to expertise. Far from being displaced or lost. and MacPhersons's The Political Theory of Possessive Individualism. the literature on Hobbes has indeed become very large. Among the students of Hobbes. Taylor's article on Hobbe's ethical doctrine. Neither of these interpretations. Ricoeur. of these a revisionary interpretation has been offered. It is also plain that interpretations may stand or fall on textual and historical grounds. has commended itself to the majority of Hobbes scholars. E.
In making these criticisms." Thisis scarcely consistent.action. This verbaljugglingis a transparent confusion. The two are simply correlatives. a point that is entirelyirrelevant..The latterwill seek out its weaknesses and try to refute it.Thereis no questionhere. though. Whether"cause" in the historian's languagealwayssignifiesa reasonor motive on the part of historicalagents. Of course. or unique to thepresent.hence the effectis the origin of the cause.it may evencease to be the subjectof debateand take its place as an established partof our understanding of the past. butnot of the cause.It runsas follows. that caused it to stop.The formerwill attemptto apply.Y. this cannot mean that it is temporallyprioror that it producesor originates the cause. however. The subsequentemergenceof anotherinterpretation may force it to undergo renewed challengeswhichthrowit into questionand perhapsdisplaceit. however.moreover.74-79.it makesus look for the cause.If my car stopsrunning for wantof gas.I have not committedmyself to any particular meaningwhichthe historianshouldattachto the notion of causalityas he uses it.N. of conceivingcause and effectas a hierarchy. See Searle's reviewof JonathanCuller. not my curiosity about why it will not run.strengthen. any originalnew interpretation will haveboth adherents and opponents.Whenwe consider an effect. or 8. each entailingthe other. But why shouldit be considered a paradox?Historical interpretations aresimilarin some respects to scientific theoriesandhypotheses. . is the originof myinterest. in the factthatsignificant new interpretations stimulateratherthan close off discussion. Likethem. I look for the cause. The effect. hence"ascientistic" rather than"antiscientistic. as John Searlehas already pointedout in his criticalreviewof Culler'sbook.the effectthus precedes or becomesthe cause of the cause. 1983). If an historicalinterpretation comes to be widely accepted.It is the emptytank.RECONSIDERATIONS 269 by a law of theirbeing.8While an effectmay be the epistemicsourceof an inquiryinto its cause. he stresseswhat he calls the paradoxthat powerfulnew interpretations do not put an end to writingbut only generatemore of it. This allegedlyparadoxical fact is supposedto be explicable only froma postmodernist perspective (140-141).OnDeconstruction: and Criticism Theory afterStructuralism(Ithaca. does it accomplish this remarkable feat?The ensuingdemonstration is the same as the one given in JonathanCuller'sOn Deconstructionand derivesfromthe latter's inspirer.in short.whichhe describes as one of apartness anddetachment butnot opposition.this may not last.1983).This accordingly the traditionalhierarchy reverses of cause and effectand provesits artificiality (141-142). Nietzsche. Thelack of substance in Ankersmit's positionis furtherillustrated in his commentson postmodernist historiography's attitudeto science.in New YorkReviewof Books 27 (October. one of themainpillars of scientific How thought. and extendit so as to demonstrateits superiorityover its competitors. There is nothing paradoxical.or the subsumption of an event.withhisclaimthatpostmodernismhas succeededin destabilizing scienceand hittingit whereit hurts mostbydeconstructing theconceptof causality.
He relates this insightto the new in contemporary understanding thoughtthat the distinctionbetweenlanguage and realityhas lost its raisond'etre. aestheticismextendsits sway over all forms of representation.therefore.Historiography is supposedto providean illustration of this operationin the intrinsicallyparadoxicalcharacterof interpretation (142-143). in whichthe authortriesto resolve the problem by firstdistinguishing reportage. significant . he points out.postmodernism pulls the carpetout from under scienceand modernism. 3.9 to assumethat historiography can dispensewith the concept of causality. it would need to entail a truth value or particulartruth conditions.dependingon the subjectunderconsideration. description. Eng. It canhardly the subversive result Ankersmit yield. about their proposedconclusion.270 PEREZ ZAGORIN phenomenonundera generalcausallaw. chaps.As a manifestation of the latterhe adducesnot only its allegeddeconstructionof the principleof causality.he instancesthe statement.causalattribution ingredient 10 historical thinking. withthose critics. 1983). I agree.Apartfromthis failure. he imagines.To be a proposition. is therebyfinallyperceived Historiography to be a literary productin whichthe historiandoes not producea representation of reality(or we may also say.I. But how does suchreflexivity apply to historiography or the theoriesof science?Ankersmitpresentsno reasonfor his contention thattheinterpretations or factualstatements of historians areparadoxicalin thisway.and explanation from one another.G.One could say the following. 10. continuesto be a disputedquestionin the philosIt is an illusion. analytical of history philosophy neglected other featuresof historicalthinkingand practice.Withthe disappearance of this distinction.1.The liar'sparadoxposes a problemof reflexivity in which a statementis logically includedin its own verdictof falsity on a class of statements of whichit is itself a member. One of the principalaims of Ankersmit's discussionis to bringout "therevolutionarynatureof postmodernism" whichenablesit to performits subversive function. ophy of history. evaluation. The most importantinsightAnkersmit creditsto postmodernism is its recognitionof the aestheticnatureof historiography."thisstatementis false.and then suggesting that historicalor sociologicalexplanation consistsof subsuming the explanandum as a case of some generalcausal law or connection. but futile.As a succinctversionof this paradox.As long as it includesexplanation will remaina necessary of as one of its objectives.. of 9.however.This is becausethe sentence does not actuallystate anythingand is thus not a proposition. it is alsodoubtfulwhether the paradox he has chosen as an exampleis reallya paradox. would like to assign to it. Runciman's A Treatise on Social Theory(Cambridge.however.or perhapsneither. nevertheless. Postmodernism's revelation to the contrary is not only mistaken."By meansof this logical weapon. Seethe recentdiscussion in W.but its viewthat all our scientificcertainties are logicallyimplicatedin the liar'sparadox. The loosenessand absenceof clarityin these assertionsmakeit hardto deal with them seriouslyas argument.and thisit is unableto do. who hold that in its virtually exclusivepreoccupation withthe problem of explanation.including Ankersmit.
One of the characteristicmoves of postmodernist and deconstructionist theory has been to try to obliteratethe boundaries between literatureand other disciplines by reducingall modes of thought to the common condition of writing. clearest. despite its inherent implausibility. Nor would they be likely to approve a characterization that gives preeminence to its literariness. Certainly it runs counter to some of the strongestconvictions and intuitions historians feel about their discipline. To sustain the opinion that style is the predominant factor in historiography. seeChristopher Norris. I venture to say that few historians would agree with Ankersmit's consignment of historiography to the category of the aesthetic. This opinion seems to me to be equally mistaken. But such summaries are possible. the attempt by language to draw attention to itself would commonly be regarded as highly inappropriate and an obtrusive breach of the rules of historical writing. this is surely not the case. Although Ankersmit holds that literary and historical works are similar in this respect. Their comment on it would most likely be that content derives from the critical study of sources and evidence. postmodernists like to put forward as proof of the revolutionary import of their ideas. this is another of those extreme claims which. rather than a separate species of reflection concerned with distinctively philosophical questions. it would be impossible to paraphrase or summarize a work of history without altering its substance or meaning. If it were true.1982). 1983). the identification of language and reality. the quality of literariness consists in the way it thrusts language and expression into the foreground and grants them an independent value and importance. however. Like the notion that interpretation has eliminated the text and the past. but a replacement or substitute for it. So it maintains that philosophy. Theory andPractice (London.RECONSIDERATIONS 271 the past). which entail that they cannot be replaced by other equivalent statements. Deconstruction. like historiography. and most sensitive way an understanding or knowledge of something in the past. II Putting aside. In history language is very largely subservient to the historian's effort to convey in the fullest. and from their perception 11. In historiography. Fora discussion. we can very well give a description of something as distinctive in style as Gibbon's narration of the origin and triumph of Christianity in the Roman Empire which effectively conveys not only his understanding of how and why this development occurred but also the irony that pervades his account of it. Generally it must be said that Ankersmit fails to provide any explanation of how style can determine or engender the content of historical works. . Historical differences likewise prove to be due to differences of style (143-145). and The Deconstructive Turn:Essays in the Rhetoric of Philosophy (London. Ankersmit emphasizes the intensional character and context of the words and statements in historical works. from the critical consideration of other writings dealing with their subject. Style is seen as prior to content and content as a derivative of style. As the Russian formalists and Roman Jakobson have told us. is merely another kind of writing and subject to its laws. a thesis construable in differentways (which in any case is well beyond the subject of my discussion).
Connected with the preceding is yet another intrinsic feature of historiography. The same effect is apparent in the prescriptions for historiography which form the conclusion of his article. It presents itself as consisting. for which the aesthetic domain contains no place. is entirely dependent on its claim to veridicality. on the unconscious aspects of the past that have been repressedand come to light only involuntarily through "slips of the tongue" (147-148). The aestheticizing of historiography which Ankersmit conceives as a major postmodernist insight inevitably results in the trivialization of history through its failure to acknowledge features that both define history as a form of thought and give it its significance. beliefs. rules. the opinions they express. interpretations. The distinctive significance that history asserts for itself. Historians operate within definite constraints.the historical work does not contain an invented or imaginary world. One of these is the difference history presumes between fact or truth and fictionality. Its pressure acts as a major determinant in giving shape to the historical work. Another feature.as psychoanalysis does. Their form of writing is apt to incorporate many justifications for the judgments they make. Even the purest narrative history is unable to dispense with the necessity of justification if it is to be acceptable to critical readers and students. requiring exceptional insight and imagination. conventions. Unlike the work of literature. If this were not so. assumptions. adequacy. One of them is that historians should concentrate. and the descriptions and analyses they present in their treatment of the past. veridicality in the widest sense is generally taken to be among its basic regulatory principles. the necessity for justification of its specific knowledge-claims. Historians know that they may be called upon to justify the veridicality. and social practices that constitute a large part of the conscious life of past societies. Many of its sentences are propositions with truthconditions attached to them. The study of these is not only a task of extreme difficulty. when they have done so the evidence exerts a continuous force upon them. a requirement it shares with other types of inquiry. it is of much less consequence than the attempt to discover and understand the values. Ankersmit's postmodernist attempt to absorb historiography into the literary and aesthetic domain ignores features that are central to the very concept of history.272 PEREZ ZAGORIN of the interrelationships that exist among the indefinite multiplicity of facts pertaining to the object of their inquiry. the readerwould take no interest in it. and even of their entire account. and reliability of particular statements. of facts and true or probable statements about the past. arising from the nature and limitations of their evidence. Although I do not deny that this aim may possess a certain value. While it is for them to determine that something is evidence and what it is evidence for. therefore. is the role occupied by evidence. but one of fundamental importance of which the priorities of postmodernism take no account. Even though historical writing may contain many false or erroneous statements and propound debatable interpretations resting on very complex evidential considerations. . of which they are fully conscious. They are not free to ignore it or make of it whatever they please. to a great degree. for which the aesthetic perspective makes no provision.
. sciencedoes not belongto culture. All that now remains for them to be concerned with are micro-subjects and "historical scraps. of focusing on large-scale subjects at a quite general level and on questions that transcend specialist and disciplinary boundaries in order to provide an understanding of whole societies and civilizations and of broad areas and aspects of the past. only to dismiss it as impertinent and a category mistake. Although Western society is sometimes said to be fast losing its connection to its past.sciencehas been a uniquelypowerfulforceand in which scientific influenceon philosophyand otherdisciplines. he explains.in contrastto other civilization." This definition also implies a description of history's function. the question of its usefulness cannot meaningfully arise any more than it can about culture itself (139). Contrary to Ankersmit's belief. Huizinga. The point is not whether it is possible to attain a total conception of world history or the historical process." and small topics now come to occupy the center of attention (149-150). One maywonderhow any reflection on modernwestern in which. tired. nevertheless. Needless to say. few historians would look with favor on this formula for a new antiquarianism which springs from a trivialized. but there will always be historians with the intellectual ambition to tackle subjects of exceptional breadth and significance. In the course of his article Ankersmit touches on the question of the usefulness of historiography. As historiography is a part of culture.RECONSIDERATIONS 273 Another of Ankersmit's prescriptions tells historians that they can no longer deal with big problems or seek to reconstruct or discover patterns in the past.12While we may concede this point. despite the fact that writings such as the latter produce may seem to have little point. synthesis. for it almost certainly is not. that it still values history and believes it important is apparent from the considerable resources it provides to support historical research and teaching. Not only does modern historical literaturecontain numerous examples of works of this kind. as modern scientific historiography once aspired and pretended to do. a scholar humanist of distinctive mind and sensibility. In the postmodernist view. "the goal is no longer integration. he states. Why does it or should it do so? An indirect answer to this question was once given by Ankersmit's compatriot. civilizationspast and present. who defined history as "the intellectual form in which a civilization renders account to itself of its past. It is typicalof the superficiality of Ankersmit's approach thathe is willingto permitthe question of the usefulnessof sciencebecauseunlikehistoriography. the expansion and fragmentation of historiography in our time through the simultaneous growth of specialization and extension of our historical horizons has made the need for integration and synthesis greater and more important than ever before. This does not preclude the feasibility."as exemplified in the work of some contemporary social historians. we can nevertheless ask what the function of history is and what purpose it serves or should serve in culture and society. and totality. that is widely recognized. and defeatist conception of historical inquiry. Huizinga went on to say that "our civilization is the first to have for its past the 12. It is a need. could possibly thoughthas exertedan incalculable excludesciencefrom the realmof culture. moreover.
8-9.274 PEREZ ZAGORIN past of the world. Ankersmit disparages this vision as modernist."3 In this statement Huizinga was not speaking of science as a positivist."To this observation he added that of a historyadequateto our civilizationcan only be a scientifichistory. the rigorous cognitive standards. which must be to give to each living generation the broadest and best possible knowledge of the past of its own society and civilization as well as of the larger human past of which it is part. but his alternative postmodernist view seems woefully impoverished by comparison. J. Huizinga.ed.1963). The Universityof Rochester in Philosophyand History."A Definitionof the Conceptof History. exigent critical methods.The instrument of theworldis critical science. fortheintellectual understanding civilization modern Western the demandfor scientificcertaintywithoutinjuryto the conscience Wecannotsacrifice of the pastmayhavea literary Mythicalandfictitiousrepresentations of our civilization. By scientific history he understood precisely what Collingwood did by the term. including severalpractical ones. and global sense of the past that became characteristicof westernhistoriographyin the course of its development during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries." mond Klibansky and H. Postmodernism representsthe abnegation of this obligation which is the ultimate cultural responsibility of historiographyand one that remainsindispensable as the rapidly changing world moves faster into the future than ever before. historiography serves a number of functions. value as forms of play. Whether we agree entirely with him or not. but for us they are not history. Ray13. his vision of historiographyis probably not far differentfrom the way many Westernhistorians today would conceive their craft. . Paton (New York. but Huizinga was looking at the question from the general standpoint of society as a whole. It could no longer perform its principal intellectual obligation in education and culture. our history is the first to be world-history. Of course. J. namely. If it were to prevail -though there is little likelihood of this happening history would no longer have a real function.
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