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Response to Review of A History of History

I want to apologise at the start of my response for so upsetting Adam by arguing yet again against the intellectual isolationism of empirical-analytical-representationalist historying, that is, that which I call ‘history of a particular kind’. I also apologise for arguing (yet again) that historians of a particular kind might wish to think seriously about what they do when they author the past as history. So, when it comes to critiquing postmodern analyses of ‘history of a particular kind’ Adam Timmins has written another version of his usual review. I have to admit that at my age I do find it difficult to worry too much about Adam’s nonchalant certainty that he knows what proper history actually is. And the suggestion (quoting Bernard Waites on Keith Jenkins) that Keith and I need to write some proper history before we spout our tedious and repetitious nonsense, is like saying you have to be a criminal before you can judge the nature of criminality. I recommend to Adam my first book Discourse and Culture (1992), which shows I have written the ‘history of a particular kind’ he refers to, but which I assume Adam has not read. Well, to be fair, why should he?

I ought to ‘evidence’ my (still possibly weak) grasp of what historians do by pointing to the index which even to the most cursory of readers should indicate that a substantial part of the book is devoted precisely to those elements Adam cannot find. Adam also says in his review that ‘the whole purpose of training historians is to instil them with the epistemic values which are promoted and accepted by the profession’. Well, I think that is pretty much what I have said is the problem. And of course, I agree with Adam when he says ‘Every historian is a product of socialisation into their discipline’. That again is part of the problem.

And then Adam says the ‘brilliance’ of my strategy (ironic troping here by Adam I think) is for me to argue that what proper historians (‘historians of a particular kind’) do is indeed compromised and yet I fail to engage with Mink or Carr or (a version of) Ankersmit in the way Adam would have liked. So, I should also apologise for not dealing with Rosenstone, White, Jenkins and Cohen as Adam would have liked. My analysis is mere puffery? Well, the objectives of the book did not really require a detailed intellectual history of them. And so, I guess to the historian who dislikes their work it might seem like puffery. So, and again, I guess I have to apologise to Adam for not writing the kind of book he wanted to read. However, I fear he will be greatly disappointed in life as most of the books he is likely to read will depress him.

Now, as Adam further points out, apparently I do not quite grasp the complexities of history as science because I do not reference (what I take might be) his preferences? Again my apologies, but I did not write the book to debate history as science (no mention of Thomas Kuhn – sorry). And anyway – as you insist – my understanding of science is not up to scratch. And so I can only say I hope I understand what most historians do and especially historians of a particular kind. That’s why I started by evaluating what most historians do and think. And that is how Jenkins started, and White, and Rosenstone and (the good later) Ankersmit and Cohen and so on and so forth. And as for Cohen’s impenetrable prose, well, it is not always straightforward to read, let alone understand, the logic of everyone’s argument?