History, Historians, and the Dynamics of Change

History, Historians, and the Dynamics of Change

History, Historians, and the Dynamics of Change

History, Historians, and the Dynamics of Change

Synopsis

Examines the competing theoretical models that historians use to explain the process of continuity and change--including those founded in the great philosophers, as well as contemporary environmental historians. Green emphasizes the importance of such systematic models for any true appreciation of the dynamic process characterizing historical change. The work also considers the validity of current modes of "periodization," or the way in which time is divided to render the past manageable.

Excerpt

This is a book about history and about some of the great historians of our century. It was undertaken to relieve a void in my own historical training. The book is presented in hope that it will illuminate aspects of the historian's enterprise for others. It is addressed to reasonably sophisticated undergraduate and graduate students as well as others who seek insight into the structure of historical knowledge and the theoretical formulations upon which contemporary historians base their work. It is hoped that the book will have value for history faculty at various academic levels--for people like myself who emerged from years of formal university education with little training in the structure of history, the history of historical writing, or the philosophy of history.

The book emerged by way of diversion. I was engaged in preliminary reading on a project involving the economic integration of the Atlantic world in the early modern period. To my distress, I discovered that I was operating without any well-formulated understanding about how change occurred at the macrohistorical level, and I was chagrined to find that many of the historians I was reading were no better informed than L My research focused on the "transitional" period between what we have defined as the Middle Ages and early modern times. If the Western world was in transition, then there had to be some extraordinary dynamic at work in European civilization. But what was it? Different historians had entirely different opinions on the topic, and all too many demonstrated no consistency in their analyses, offering one type of causal explanation for one set of changes and a second for others without ever attempting to integrate those explanations into an over-arching model for change. My confusion led to frustration; with some reluctance, I set aside my main project--ever so briefly, of course--in order to inform myself, as best I could, about the prevailing theories of change that should, or could, guide a historian studying the period between the Middle Ages and the Industrial . . .

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