The problems which motivated the interest in theory of history from the s and 40s down to just yesterday have now been pretty much assimilated to a new lingua franca of metahistorical discourse. A new generation of scholars can now treat as what goes without saying many of the "undecidables" of the older generations' discourses. The essays display an openness to innovation and manifest a kind of authority which stand above both polemics and apologetics. All of the relevant topics, themes, debates, methodological issues, and images of the "theory wars" are taken account of--I counted twenty-six such, from "linguistic turn" through "gender" and "postcolonial" to "fiction" and "causality"-- even-handedly, insightfully, and responsibly.
The documentation is impressive, the footnotes pertinent, full, and informative, the bibliographies comprehensive. The whole bears the imprint of the scholarly styles of its editors, Professors Partner and Foot. Anyone who knows their scholarship will expect nothing but the highest standards brought to anything they study.
I was most impressed by the way in which the essays taken as a whole extend the field of historical studies to include all of the other disciplines in the human, social, and natural sciences which take "the past" and not only "history" as objects of study.
This is an indispensable Handbook for anyone who has a professional or even an "amateur" interest in the study of the past. The editors have assembled a large and outstanding group of historians and other theorists who examine and represent theories of historical knowledge from every angle. The collection is comprehensive, scholarly, and full of new insights. The challenges of the use of theory in history is analysed and interrogated in significant and exciting ways in this work. In drawing on the insights of leading scholars, this indispensible volume broadens the parameters of our investigation of the past and deepens our interpretation and understanding of historical knowledge.
Nancy Partner and Sarah Foot have brought together a comprehensive and up-to-date collection of essays on historical theory. The special feature is that more than half the contributions are written by working historians with their feet on the ground. The book will be invaluable both to students of historiography and seasoned practitioners. This is an important overview and critical analysis of the present state of history writing.
Starting with history's modernist foundations in the 19th century, the Handbook succinctly explains how the rise of postmodernism has brought about our present-day post-postmodernist predicament with its broad variety of historical genres. It is to be recommended without qualification to all serious students of philosophy of history, including those who think they already know something about the subject they will soon discover, like me, that they have a lot to learn.
The SAGE Handbook of Historical Theory | SAGE Publications Ltd
Containing 29 articles or chapters, all written by experts in the field, it covers subjects as diverse as empiricism, the historical imagination, narrative history, feminist history, the history of sexuality, cultural studies, memory, post-colonial theory, historical experience, and the works of Collingwood, Hayden White, Derrida and Foucault. The Sage Handbook of Historical Theory offers us 29 article-length essays on a wide variety of topics written by recognized and respected experts. Most are historians reflecting on their own work and practices, or those of others.
They tell us about methods empirical, scientific, psychoanalytic, digital , schools The Historical School, Annales , lots of individuals Collingwood,Hayden White, Derrida, Foucault , applications social history, gender history. I found these essays satisfying, informative, and, in cases where I was pretty familiar with the subject, quite reliable.
This is the sort of book that can be consulted by the scholar again and again as needs and questions arise. Important claims can be made about the increase and intensification of historical knowledge which this revolution in method brings about. A typical response has been to treat this question as itself a problem in theory or philosophy, and it can be observed that more has been written about Quentin Skinner—a leader in the historical revolution—as political theorist or philosopher than as historian.
I will bias my own enquiry by pointing out that the text will be a historical artifact, but that the theorist desires to make use of it for purposes other than establishing it as a historical phenomenon. One aims to characterize, to evaluate, to explicate rather than explain , and therefore in the last analysis to narrate, actions p. The historian, then, may be thought of as scrutinizing the actions and activity of political theory, and asking questions about what it has been and done, answers to which will necessarily take the form of narratives of actions performed and their consequences.
Here the focus of our enquiry shifts.
It is not unreasonable if such a theorist asks why such histories deserve attention. In the last forty or fifty years, canonical histories of this kind have fallen into disfavor although there have recently been some signs of a revival 1. The best-known alternative in English, associated with the work of Quentin Skinner and others, 2 has taken p. It will be seen that the distance, mentioned earlier, between the questions asked by the theorist or philosopher, and by the historian, has grown wider. Historians of this school look upon the political literature of any period as composed of acts of speech or writing, articulations performed by authors in the language or diversity of languages available to them.
There are of course further contexts, the political, religious, social, and historical situations in which authors and their publics were situated; and what these were is to be discovered as much from the implications of their languages as from the researches of historians. What actors thought was happening is of equal importance with what historians think was happening; history is the study of subjective behavior. The works of Machiavelli were written in manuscript for discussion groups in the politics of Florence, and it was by others after his death that they were released on the print networks of Europe, where they were read and responded to by other groups and publics, in ways it is not immediately certain he intended.
The happenings of communication and performance are of primary concern to the historian, but not to the political theorist. Works on the history of political thought, written in the above manner, tend to be microhistories rather than macrohistories, studies of particular performances, actions, and compositions, focused on the immediate context of the action rather than its long-term consequences.
If confined—as there is no reason why they should not be—to a particular text or group of texts, and to the state of the language culture at the time these were written, they will be synchronous rather than diachronous in their emphasis; and it has been asked whether the contextualist approach is capable of supplying a history of contexts. This, however, can be done in several ways. The text and its author can be shown innovating in and acting upon the language in which the text is written, obliging the language to say new things and modify or reverse its implications.
The text can be studied as it is read and responded to by others, p. Lastly, texts sometimes outlive both their authors and the contexts in which they are written, traveling both in space and in time to act and be acted upon in contexts of language and circumstance sharply unlike those in which they received their original meaning.
To suppose a direct encounter between a political theorist and a historian, each engaged in studying the same text, we must make two assumptions. In the second place—and here it is hard to avoid placing an additional burden on the theorist—we must suppose that the two actors are studying the same text, which has not been written by the theorist but by some other agent at some point in history.
It is hard, although in principle not impossible, to imagine the historian studying a text written by a contemporary theorist as if it were a historical phenomenon. Historians are typically concerned with the past; they let time go by, during which evidence may assemble and perspectives emerge and alter.
But once we suppose the theorist to be engaged with a text written by another hand, and itself a historical document, we must ask why this is happening, and what role a text written by another and—the historian instantly adds—in another context plays in the self-discipline and self-validating enterprise we have supposed the theorist to be conducting. The answer to our questions may emerge in literary and almost serendipitous terms.
The theorist has, for whatever reason, read the historic text and finds its language to serve the purpose of some enterprise in political theory being conducted in the present; the p. In what ways, if any, will the propositions advanced by theorist and historian affirm or deny one another? The historian will scrutinize this assertion.
We will suppose her or him capable of understanding a programme of political theory conducted in the present, as well as of reconstructing the languages in which programs of a similar kind have been conducted in past historical contexts. When texts outlive the historical situation in which they were first written and read, intended and understood, the likelihood of a diversity of effect becomes greater.
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The theorist is performing an act of selection on grounds which are not those on which the historian acts. The last stipulation implies that the enterprise is purely theoretical and is not being carried on into practice, since practice takes place in a world of multiple contexts and history.
Given this condition, however, the theorist may still be asked why the historically distant text has been chosen as the subject of this act of translation. The answer may be that it has happened accidentally; the theorist happens to have read this text, and it happens that its language lends itself to this theoretical purpose. The circumstance that the author had similar intentions, or alternatively that his or her language can be so interpreted, is itself accidental; we are in a situation where history is accidental, or incidental, to theory.
These hypothetical circumstances, however, entail different historical statements; the former is about the author acting in her or his moment in history, the latter about the action and moment of the theorist.
The Historiography of the History of Philosophy
The latter claims to be acting now, making a statement whose validity does not depend upon the historical context in which it is performed. It may be called positivist in the sense that it offers its own conditions of validation and appeals only to them. This is of course wholly justifiable; it is valuable to set up laboratories and construct hypotheses subject to validation under rigorously controlled conditions. This question becomes all the more pressing as we enter the realms of practice and history, where the conditions under which, and the contexts in which, we operate can never be defined with finality.
The historian has begun to resemble a post-Burkean moderate conservative, reminding us that there is always more going on than we can comprehend at any one moment and convert into either theory or practice. There is room therefore for consideration of historiography as itself a branch of political thought and theory, literature and discourse.
The theorist, however, may be imagined using historical information, making historical assumptions either explicit or implicit, or reflecting upon historical processes as these appear relevant to the enterprise in political theory being conducted. If the former, the theorist is claiming to make historical statements validated in either the same ways as those the historian practices, or in other ways which must be defined and defended.
If the latter—and this the historian p. Burns, J. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Find this resource:. The Cambridge History of Political Thought, — Coleman, J.