Clio among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities

Clio among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities

Clio among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities

Clio among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities

Synopsis

History helps us understand change, provides clues to our own identity, and hones our moral sense. But history is not a stand-alone discipline. Indeed, its own history is incomplete without recognition of its debt to its companions in the humane and social sciences. Innbsp;Clio among the Muses, noted historiographer Peter Charles Hoffer relates the story of this remarkable collaboration. Hoffer traces history's complicated partnership with its coordinate disciplines of religion, philosophy, the social sciences, literature, biography, policy studies, and law. As in ancient days, when Clio was preeminent among the other eight muses, so today, the author argues that history can and should claim pride of place in the study of past human action and thought. nbsp; Intimate and irreverent at times,nbsp;Clio among the Musesnbsp;synthesizes a remarkable array of information. Clear and concise in its review of the companionship between history and its coordinate disciplines, fair-minded in its assessment of the contributions of history to other disciplines and these disciplines' contributions to history, Clio among the Muses will capture the attention of everyone who cares about the study of history. For as the author demonstrates, the study of history is something unique, ennobling, and necessary. One can live without religion, philosophy and the rest. One cannot exist without history. Rigorously documented throughout, the book offers a unique perspective on the craft of history. nbsp; Peter Charles Hoffernbsp;has taught history at Harvard, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Brooklyn College, and the University of Georgia since 1968, and specializes in historical methods, early American history, and legal history. He has authored or co-authored over three dozen books, and edited another twenty. Previous titles includenbsp;The Historian's Paradox: The Study of History in Our Timenbsp;(NYU Press, 2008).nbsp;

Excerpt

In beginning our history proper, it might perhaps be wise to
forget all that we have said before and start fresh, as a lot of
new things have come up.

ROBERT BENCHLEY, 1944

The humorist, essayist, and pseudo-documentary movie maker Robert Benchley had a rare gift for parody. One of his targets was the academic know-it-all who learns everything from books. For example, “in order to write about snake-charming, one has to know a little about its history, and where should one go to find out about history but to a book. Maybe in that pile of books in the corner is one on snake-charming. Nobody could point the finger of scorn at me if I went over to those books for the avowed purpose of research work.”

Benchley put his finger on exactly what historians do when they write about other historians (a subject inelegantly called “historiography”). They go over to that pile of books, sort and read, compile genealogies of ideas and methods, and make judgments, and another book goes on top of the pile. Historians (if not, alas, their readers) find the study of the discipline of history endlessly fascinating. For at the center of the study of the past is a compelling paradox: We demand to know about the past but can never be sure we have gotten our account right. We would love to go back in time (all historians are secret re-enactors), but we cannot go back, and even if we could, how could we see all the events from all the perspectives that the past offers? History is Odysseus’ Sirens calling us to a place that we cannot reach, yet we persist in listening. The Sirens’ call is so enchanting—writing . . .

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