In some ways it is a scandal that it has taken until now for an English-language book on the thought of Reinhard Koselleck to appear. Then again, as Olsen writes in the introduction to this work, Koselleck has always been somewhat of an outsider vis-a-vis the historical profession.
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).
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.
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.
Phenomenology and its application to the writing of history have complex intellectual origins.
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).
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.
The Birth of Modern Belief is seriously good. It is erudite, insightful, and cogent; but, above all, it enables us to think hard about the relationship between our past and our present.
Francis Bacon’s unfinished utopian novel The New Atlantis is often invoked in scholarship about early modern scientific projects.