On "What Is History?": From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White

On "What Is History?": From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White

On "What Is History?": From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White

On "What Is History?": From Carr and Elton to Rorty and White

Synopsis

On 'What is History?' provides a student introduction to contemporary historiographical debates.Carr and Elton are still the starting point for the vast majority of introductory courses on the nature of history. Building on his highly successful Rethinking History , Keith Jenkins explores in greater detail the influence of these key figures. He argues that historians need to move beyond their 'modernist' thinking and embrace the postmodern-type approaches of thinkers such as Richard Rorty and Hayden White.Through its radical critique of Carr and Elton and its championing of Rorty and White, On 'What is History'? represents a significant development for introductory studies on the nature of history.

Excerpt

No discourse-and therefore no contribution to, and/or comment on, aspects of an existing discourse-is of 'a natural kind'. You cannot find a historical or geographical or scientific or literary discourse just out there, just growing wild. Discourses are cultural, cultivated, fabricated and thus ultimately arbitrary, ways of carving up what comes to constitute their 'field', so that like any approach in any other discursive practice an introductory discussion about 'history today' could begin from innumerable starting points and be developed in various ways: in these matters one always has to make a start (and come to an end) somewhere. Accordingly, what follows is just my own way of introducing a little of what I think is going on in debates about history today, just one way of trying to locate Carr, Elton, Rorty and White in relation to them, and just one way of helping me to reach the conclusion I want to reach and which I hope might appear plausible; namely, that Carr and Elton, unlike Rorty and White, are, in their modernisms, not much to the point when now discussing the question of 'what is history?'

My approach has four parts. First, in Section One of this chapter, an examination of how aspects of history are now being considered and problematised from textualist and 'postist' viewpoints will be carried out. To get into this area I start from the premise that there is a radical distinction to be drawn between 'the past' and 'history', going on to look at how this distinction has been 'worked' by three historians/theorists (Tony Bennett, F.R. Ankersmit and Hayden White himself) so as to arrive at some early and general understanding of what history today arguably is. Second, I look at just four 'representative' implications for 'traditional' histories as occasioned by such workings of the past-history distinction; implications involving the areas of ideology, historicism, historical truth and

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