Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom?

Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom?

Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom?

Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom?


This original and thought-provoking study looks at the context of postmodernist thought in general cultural terms as well as in relation to history. Postmodernism in History traces philosophical precursors of postmodernism and identifies the roots of current concerns. Beverley Southgate describes the core constituents of postmodernism and provides a lucid and profound analysis of the current state of the debate. His main concern is to counter 'pomophobia' and to assert a positive future for historical study in a postmodern world. Postmodernism in History is a valuable guide to some of the most complex questions in historical theory for students and teachers alike.


My title is ambiguous. It implies concern, first, with postmodernism in history as the past; and, second, with the possible implications of postmodernism in history as a present academic discipline. That ambiguity is deliberate: my concern is with both. I try here both to contextualise postmodernism as a part of intellectual history, and to assess its past and potential effects on the study of history.

In both cases the focus can be deduced from my subtitle. Indeed, my interest in the subject stems from observing manifestations of the fear that postmodernism seems to engender, and not least among historians: highly emotional responses to postmodernism seem to sit ill with the modernist ideals on which historians still insist - such virtues as 'rationality', 'fairness', 'balance' and 'detachment'. So what is going on? Is fear an appropriate response - or should we rather be celebrating greater freedom?

Many, of course, now protest that postmodernism is history - a thing of the past, an irritating intellectual fad that had its day in the late twentieth century and can now safely (and thankfully) be forgotten. On the whole, it's claimed, it told historians nothing that they didn't already know, though it may be conceded that a few of its minor insights have now been incorporated into existing historical practice. But that is a position that I can't accept: rather, I take postmodernism to be the continuing attempt to formulate a theoretical explanation for the situation that in practice (and by definition) we're all in - the situation itself of postmodernity. As such, it's not only an academic or theoretical matter that we are concerned with: on the contrary, postmodernism has very much to do with the practicalities, not only of history but of life - with the ways we choose to live as individuals, with the ways we interact with others in society, and with our choice of political agenda. and it has to do not least with our aspirations for the future.

No doubt overly ambitious, then, this book aims to be another 'Guide for the Perplexed'. It's for those who remain perplexed about what

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