On World History: An Anthology

On World History: An Anthology

On World History: An Anthology

On World History: An Anthology


Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) was an influential German critic and philosopher, whose ideas included "cultural nationalism" - that every nation has its own personality and pattern of growth. This anthology contains excerpts from Herder's writings on world history and related topics.


Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) is often recognized as a founder of German Romanticism, nationalism, and anthropology but less often celebrated as a father of world history. In this volume of Herder's writings, Hans Adler and Ernest Menze demonstrate the important steps Herder took "on the way to world history."

Before Herder, Christian theology taught a vision of time in which God's Providence was revealed in human action. Herder showed that while human actions reveal the will of God, they also reveal a rich tapestry of human motivations, societal causation, and cultural conditioning. For Herder, even the synoptic gospels could be understood in terms of the very human history of first-century Judaism. History could exist separately from theology.

But just as Providence could have no meaning without God, history could have no meaning without a philosophy. Herder was one of the first "moderns" in his recognition of the variety of historical subject matter. His avid cultivation of folk tales and folk songs vastly expanded the realm of historical sources. His study of the history of language convinced him (as it had Vico earlier) of the overriding importance of change. The past was too rich, and too inconstant, to be neatly catalogued without some philosophy of history to serve as a principle of organization and selection.

Herder made his organizing principle humanity itself. Nothing less than the entire history of humanity would give coherence to his study of the past. Indian, Chinese, and Native American art and mythology would stand by the Greek classics, the Hebrew Bible, and European literature. He would study world history in order to appreciate the variety of God's creation and its process of change.

In this regard, we are all children of Herder. As modern historical writing embraces ever more aspects of popular culture and social life, as historical "facts" are produced at an ever increasing rate, we world historians also . . .

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