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The sub-branch of history that is known by the ambiguous (and frightening to undergraduates, cats, and many mainstream academics) name “historiography” seems to be undergoing a Renaissance at the moment.
Historians are good at putting objects in their place. Details about context, manufacture, use, abuse, meaning, significance, decay, and so on are layered so that an object itself becomes a carrier of its moment in history. Putting material back into the fabric of history itself enriches that history.
Triumph in the West is the triumphant conclusion of J. G. A. Pocock’s series on Edward Gibbon and the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1776–89).
History is never the final word; we are too empirically sensitive these days to think otherwise. It would be fair to say that since the days of Karl Popper historians have been acutely aware that what they write or utter is never the final statement concerning the historical record. Their assertions are provisional, liable to a degree of tinkering.
David Cannadine’s title, with its reference to ‘the undivided past’, may seem to suggest some Platonic idea of a Rankean straw man who aspires to a consensual and ‘definitive’ history of a unitary past; but what we have here is something very different – something that might indeed be construed as a quite revolutionary gesture.
This book raises the intriguing question of genre. The history discipline admits a variety – not just academic forms (such as the learned article, the monograph, the edited collection), but also textbooks on the nature of history, student guides to historical skills and types of history, not to mention the theory of history, here dismissed in a sentence (p. xi).
According to the blurb on the back of this book:
A book-length examination of the work of Frank Ankersmit has been long overdue. Ankersmit occupies a curious position in regards to the various skirmishes taking place over the philosophy of history in the past 30 years or so.
As Geoffrey Elton put it, ‘The future is dark; the present is burdensome; only the past, dead and finished, bears contemplation’.(1) We take the concept of ‘the past’ for granted, yet Schiffman argues that the notion of the past as a concept ‘began only fairly recently, during the Renaissance, and did not culminate until the eighteenth century, after which it acquired
One could perhaps argue that, so far as the popular academic imagination is concerned, America has never had much of a reputation so far as historical theory goes.