Western Historical Thinking: An Intercultural Debate

Western Historical Thinking: An Intercultural Debate

Western Historical Thinking: An Intercultural Debate

Western Historical Thinking: An Intercultural Debate


What is history a question historians have been asking themselves time and again. Does "history" as an academic discipline, as it has evolved in the West over the centuries, represent a specific mode of historical thinking that can bedefined in contrast to other forms of historical consciousness?

In this volume, Peter Burke, a prominent "Western" historian, offers ten hypotheses that attempt to constitute specifically "Western Historical Thinking." Scholars from Asia and Africa comment on his position in the light of their own ideas of the sense and meaning of historical thinking. The volume is rounded off by Peter Burke's comments on the questions and issues raised by the authors and his suggestions for the way forward towards a common ground for intercultural communication."


Why historical thinking has to become intercultural

Historical memory and historical consciousness have an important cultural function: they form identity. They delimit the realm of one’s own life—the familiar and comforting aspects of one’s own life-world—from the world of others, which usually is an “other world”, a strange world as well. Historical memory and historical thinking carry out this function of forming identity in a temporal perspective; for it is the temporal change of humans and their world—their frequent experience of things turning out different from what has been expected or planned—that endangers the identity and familiarity of one’s own world and self. The change calls for a mental effort to keep the world and self familiar or—in cases of extraordinarily disturbing experiences of change— to reacquire this familiarity.

Identity is located at the threshold between origin and future, a passage that cannot be left alone to the natural chain of events but has to be intellectually comprehended and achieved. This achievement is produced—by historical consciousness—through individual and collective memory and through recalling the past into the present. This process can be described as a very specific procedure of creating sense. This procedure welds experiences of the past and expectations of the future into the comprehensive image of temporal progression. This temporal concept shapes the human life-world and provides the self (the “we” and “I” of its subjects) with continuity and consistency, with an inner coherence, with a guarantee against the loss of its essential core or with similar images of duration within the changes of subjects. The location of the self, in terms of the territorial reality of living as well as in terms of the mental situation of the self within the cosmos of things and beings, has a temporal dimension. It is only through this dimension of time that the location of the self

Notes for this section can be found on page 11.

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