Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History

Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History

Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History

Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History

Excerpt

When the first version of this book was published, in 1971, it was gratifyingly well received as an introduction to the study and writing of history. In time it inevitably came to need revision to bring it abreast of advances in scholarship and changes in perspective. The original book has now been considerably revised and rewritten as Heritage and Challenge: The History and Theory of History. The attempt to combine a survey of the history of historical writing with a critical analysis of the theoretical issues and problems that have emerged from this history still seems to us both sound and interesting. The differences in our views and approaches only add to this interest. We both find the subject endlessly fascinating; it is the attempt to understand humanity's attempt to understand itself. Fledgling historians should of course realize how much more there is to this large enterprise than this short book indicates; it is meant to start them on their quest.

In the preface to The Heritage and Challenge of History , in the aftermath of the turbulent sixties, we noted that historians then felt more disquietude than at any other time in the recent past. Perhaps they still do. The historical profession remains severely fragmented in definition, methods, and purposes. It is not clear that young people value historical knowledge any more today than they did in 1971. Perhaps people still sense an almost complete discontinuity between past and present. Yet the very stresses and strains of contemporary life suggest a need for historical-mindedness, for a recognition of continuities. This need is no less pressing whether most of our past merits our celebration or deserves only our condemnation.

Any profession can succumb to myopia, particularly in times of prosperity. Until recently, historians often relaxed in the comfort and security of an old, well-established profession. They rarely questioned the legitimacy or the long-range usefulness of their inquiry. Much more than social scientists, they remained aloof from definitional and meth-

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