The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time


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Revision history. Google Books no proxy Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server Configure custom proxy use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy. Configure custom resolver. The Ethical Presupposition of Historical Understanding.

Natan Elgabsi - - Culture and Dialogue 5 2 Behan McCullagh - - Routledge. World History: The Basics. Peter N.

The Historians' Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time

Stearns - - Routledge. In Defence of History. Richard J. Evans - - Granta Books. Measuring Time, Making History. History and Historians in the Twentieth Century. Peter Burke ed. I also visited activists in Baix Llobregat, workers in the Seat factory who spoke in southern Spanish, and textile workers in Terrassa who spoke Catalan. I had previously spent three summers teaching English in Madrid from to , and my sense of the difference between Madrid and Barcelona was, yes, that there was the Catalan language, with very little public presence, and that Barcelona seemed much more like a city under occupation.

I often think of learning a new language as a kind of love affair.

History, Democracy, and Citizenship: The Debate over His | OAH

Can you describe your love affair with Catalan? How is your relationship with Catalan different from your relationship to Spanish, French, and Portuguese? Everything depends on your point of departure. Estrangement, evasion, the search for another place to be are all elements in a love affair, and as consciousness is so located in language and culture, the addition of other languages leads to an expansion of consciousness and culture in its broadest sense.

The situation worsened when I passed the exams to go to the Grammar School, the first time anyone from my family had gone to this place that had existed in the town since the 16th century. At the elementary school, most pupils came from the neighborhood. I felt increasingly estranged from my home language and uncomfortable with the standard that the majority used in their homes in very different parts of town.

So Latin and French rescued me. Here we all started from zero, and I excelled, and then came Spanish. My estrangement was linguistic and cultural. My father was a print worker and active trade-unionist, not a manager, banker, shop-owner. I only really came to like and read English literature for pleasure when I was 16 and reading Virgil and Horace, Balzac and Lorca and company in the original.

Those three languages freed up my imagination, feelings, and intellect, got me over what I suppose was a narrowness caused by a visceral sense of class that simultaneously was powering me into other places. I started to learn Portuguese when I was a journalist and consolidated that when I translated Chico Buarque and made a TV documentary about him. I began to learn Catalan at the end of the s as I was hoping to live in Barcelona for a year. Later it was literally a matter of love.

The Historians' Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time

We both left our posts to go and live in Barcelona in For the first time, I was learning the language properly in the country where it was spoken. Teresa speaks Catalan to our daughter, who speaks to me in English, and most of our conversations are trilingual, even after our move to the United Kingdom in Do these themes speak to you personally?

The exclusion of my working-class culture from my own education led me to embrace other languages and literatures and want to bring those into the English-speaking world through translation, to challenge, as it were, the hegemony of the nationalist standard and canon. Memories of disenfranchisement came from my family.

My new reality clashed with the visions of life my parents and other members of my family retailed in story after story. My grandfather in the village of Pinchbeck was a shepherd living in a tied cottage.

The Study of History in Our Time

He fell ill, and the landowner threw him and his family onto the street. This was at the end of World War I when three of my uncles were killed in France. My mother came from Sheffield, lived in the center of the city of steel, and enjoyed an urban working-class culture — socialist cycling clubs, visits to the theater and opera, movies and dancing — until she was put into service with an uncle and aunt, which she left to go strawberry-picking in Lincolnshire in She met my father and never went back. Then came World War II, and my father was away for two years in France and four in the Middle East; when he returned, he was a stranger to my mother and his young daughters.

I was then born into a family that had been ravaged by war. When I was school teacher in London, I taught in schools that were multilingual — 50 or 60 languages spoken by students — and I was fortunate that there was a progressive educational authority, and we attempted to forge a curriculum that responded to the experiences of our students. Students would suddenly appear on the school doorstep as a result of conflicts thousands of miles away — from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Cyprus — exiles in flight from civil war and dictatorship.

We developed whole school policies on language and culture. All that pedagogical potential was ended by Thatcher, who abolished the educational authority. Trivialities are what social history used to be about: clothes, hunting, sex, weddings, houses, eating, sleeping.

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For most people, in all periods, major preoccupations; but for serious historians, marginal matters compared with politics, laws, wars and foreign relation. Social history provided mere light relief, the tail-piece for proper history, just enough to convince the reader that the subject matter was human after all. Fashions have now changed. And, thanks to the work of Norbert Elias, we can see changing habits of eating and lovemaking, not only as part of the cultural transformation of western civilisation, but also as a reflection of changes in the extent of state power.

But that is sociological history, and another story. Social history is more difficult to define than political or economic or military history. Whereas those terms apply to the history of distinct kinds of activity, the term social covers virtually everything. In fact there have been three very different views about the nature of social history. The oldest view of social history was that it was the history of manners, of leisure, of a whole range of social activities which were conducted outside political, economic, military and any other institutions which were the concern of specific kinds of history.

One problem with this rather residual view of social history was that its domain shrank as historians of women, the family, leisure, education, etc. There was also the danger that these histories could become trivialised by the exclusion of politics, economics or ideas from the activities they were investigating.

In a reaction against this some historians have gone to the other extreme and argued that social history should become the history of society: societal history. The idea is that political, economic, military and other specific types of history each study only one aspect of a society. It is necessary to bring these various types of history together into a single framework if that whole society is to be understood. This is the task of societal history. There are many difficulties with this view of social history.

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First, the whole approach is based upon the assumption that there is a society to study. But when we use the term society we do not normally mean a distinct social structure, but rather the inhabitants of a certain territory or the subjects of a particular political authority. It remains to be established whether there is a distinct social structure which shapes the way these people live their lives. There is a danger that this assumption of a single society will be imposed upon the evidence. Thus the assumption that English society was becoming industrial during the nineteenth century, along with various ideas about what a pre-industrial and an industrial society are like, can distract from the proper task of the historian.

Instead of describing and analysing specific events, the historian is lured into categorising various elements of 'society' according to where they are located on the path from pre-industrial to industrial. This 'evidence' is then cited in support of the original assumption. The argument is unhistorical, circular and empty of real meaning.

A much more promising way of bringing the different branches of history together into a single framework is to distinguish between different dimensions such as the political, the economic and the ideological. Then one tries to relate these different levels together. Marxist history is the best example of this kind of enterprise.

But equally the tradition associated with Max Weber can lead in the same direction although with important differences. In both cases, however, the central concern is no longer with 'society' but rather with other concepts such as 'mode of production' or 'types of legitimate domination'. It makes little sense to call these approaches examples of social or societal history.

There may still be the assumption that the ultimate purpose is to understand 'society as a whole' or a 'social formation', but this assumption is not an essential element in these types of history. What is essential is how the different dimensions are defined and then related to the evidence and to one another. A third view of social history is that it is concerned with experience rather than action.

One might argue that people who are wage-earners, parents, citizens, consumers and much else besides must possess some sense of identity which underlies all these particular roles and must experience the world in ways which extend beyond these roles. The job of the social historian is to provide a general understanding not at the level of 'society as a whole' but at the level of the individual or the members of particular social groups.

But there are problems with this. All the historian can do is study the records of people's actions in the past which still exist. The temptation to go 'behind' those actions to the 'real' people can lead to unverifiable speculation.

It can lead away from the concern with specific events which is the essence of history. Finally it can lead away from the social into the psychological.

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The recent upsurge of interest in the history of 'everyday life' has sometimes demonstrated these weaknesses when it has sought to go beyond the rather antiquarian pursuit of bits and pieces of 'ordinary life'. These three views of social history — as a residual history of assorted social activities, as societal history, and as the history of social experience — seem to lead nowhere. Confronted with much of what calls itself social history one might feel inclined to settle for this negative conclusion. But I think that at least for modern history there is a further point to be made.

Modern history has witnessed a dramatic increase in the scale of human activity with the growth in size and importance of markets, firms, states and other institutions. People relate to one another in these institutions with little in the way of a common sense of identity or personal knowledge of one another. The studies of these institutions tend, therefore, to omit a consideration of the ways individuals understand their actions within the institutions.

But in the end those understandings determine how the institutions perform.


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The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time
The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time
The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time
The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time
The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time
The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time The Historians’ Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time

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