History as Re-Enactment: R.G. Collingwood's Idea of History

Synopsis

A central motif of R. G. Collingwood's philosophy of history is the idea that historical understanding requires a re-enactment of past experience. However, there have been sharp disagreements about the acceptability of this idea, and even its meaning. This book aims to advance the critical discussion in three ways: by analysing the idea itself further, concentrating especially on the contrast which Collingwood drew between it and scientific understanding; by exploring the limits of its applicability to what historians ordinarily consider their proper subject-matter; and by clarifying the relationship between it and some other key Collingwoodian ideas, such as the place of imagination in historical inquiry, the sense in which history deals with the individual, the essential perspectivity of historical judgement, and the importance of narrative and periodization in historical thinking. Professor Dray defends Collingwood against a good deal of recent criticism, while pointing to ways in which his position requires revision or development. History as Re-enactment draws upon a wide range of Collingwood's published writings, and makes considerable use of his unpublished manuscripts. It is the most systematic study yet of this central doctrine of Collingwood's philosophy of history, and will stand as a landmark in Collingwood studies. 'For many years William Dray has been working at the task of retrieving Collingwood for contemporary philosophy. . . . It is something of an event then to have this new work, the culmination of a lifetime of thought, appear in his retirement. As one would expect, it is a deeply considered book, lucidly written, and scrupulously fair to all parties . . . a sound and serious philosophical commentary . . . anyone interested in either Collingwood or the philosophy of history should consider joining the dialogue and will learn much in the process.' Canadian Journal of History

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