History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change

Simon ZB (2015)
European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire 22(5): 819-834.

Journal Article | Published | English

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Abstract
An essential element usually passes unnoticed in recent discussion about how history as an academic discipline is supposed to be relevant for the shaping of our public life. It is the concept of history itself (history as both the course of events and historical writing) that underlies the whole discussion, which also configures the two currently most influential and fashionable efforts to reinstate the public relevance of history: The History Manifesto, co-authored by Jo Guldi and David Armitage, and Hayden White's The Practical Past. In advising to turn to the past in order to shape the present and the future, both books rely on the familiar developmental view that characterised nineteenth-century thinking in general, and on which the discipline of history became institutionalised in particular. The author's main contention in this essay is that turning to this notion of history is not the solution for the problem of the supposed public irrelevance of professional historical studies, but the problem itself. The developmental view, based on a presumption of a deeper continuity provided by the subject of the historical process that retains its self-identity amid all changes, certainly suited the discipline of history when it was engaged in the project of nation-building. However, it hardly fits our present concerns. These concerns, like the Anthropocene, take the shape of unprecedented change, and what they challenge is precisely the deeper continuity of the developmental view. The discipline of history can regain public relevance only insofar as it proves to be able to exhibit a thinking of its own specificity which can nevertheless explain such unprecedented changes. What such historical thinking could provide is what the developmental view can no longer: the possibility to act upon a story that we can believe.
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Simon ZB. History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire. 2015;22(5):819-834.
Simon, Z. B. (2015). History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire, 22(5), 819-834.
Simon, Z. B. (2015). History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire 22, 819-834.
Simon, Z.B., 2015. History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire, 22(5), p 819-834.
Z.B. Simon, “History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change”, European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire, vol. 22, 2015, pp. 819-834.
Simon, Z.B.: History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire. 22, 819-834 (2015).
Simon, Zoltán Boldizsár. “History Manifested: Making Sense of Unprecedented Change”. European Review of History-Revue Europeenne d Histoire 22.5 (2015): 819-834.
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