Hayden White (Key Contemporary Thinkers)

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Forgetting has rarely been investigated in historical theory. Insofar as it attracted the attention of theorists at all, forgetting has ordinarily been considered to be a defect in our relationship to the past that should be overcome in one way or another. The only exception is Nietzsche who so provocatively sung the praises of forgetting in his On the Use and Abuse of History But Nietzsche's conception is the easy victim of a consistent historicism and therefore in need of correction.

Four types of forgetting are identified in this essay. Central in the essay's argument is the fourth type. This is the kind of forgetting taking place when a civilization "commits suicide" by exchanging a previous identity for a new one. Hegel's moving account of the conflict between Socrates and the Athenian state is presented as the paradigmatic example of this kind of forgetting.

Two conclusions follow from an analysis of this type of forgetting. First, we can now understand what should be recognized as a civilization's historical sublime and how the notions of the historical sublime and of collective trauma are related. Second, it follows that myth and scientific history do not exclude each other; on the contrary, scientific history creates myth. This should not be taken to be a defect of history, for this is precisely how it should be. History and Theory, Theme Issue 40 December , Theories of revolution invoke human agency to commit the violence that revolution entails, yet theorists of revolution often denounce the general theory of human agency called rational choice because they say it does not explain macrosocial facts like revolution and also leaves out culture.

Actually, however, rational choice is the major premise of any cogent explanation of revolution, and it includes culture as a factual premise. Rational-choice theory applied to explaining revolution dates back to Thucydides, whose method of explanation is sound and whose theory of revolution is true. Thucydides explains the macrosocial fact of revolution by way of models whose elements are people doing what they hope will succeed, that is, acting on opinion alias culture. Theorists of revolution who make sense of it all rehearse Thucydides: they analyze the narrative history into strategic actions and reactions, explain these actions and reactions by rational choice, and document the explanation with direct and circumstantial evidence for hope of success, though they seldom own up on theory and method or preach what they practice.

Steel, unlike the "element" iron, is a product of human fabrication. It is both hard and potentially flexible.

Further, whereas a cage confines human agents, but leaves their powers otherwise intact, a "shell" suggests that modern capitalism has created a new kind of being. After examining objections to this interpretation, I argue that whatever the problems with Parsons's "iron cage" as a rendition of Weber's own metaphor, it has become a "traveling idea," a fertile coinage, in its own right, an intriguing example of how the translator's imagination can impose itself influentially on the text and its readers.

History and Theory 37 February , 37, This critique is based on the now famous idea that modern philosophies of history have only extended and deepened an illusion fabricated by a long tradition of Christian historical reflection: the illusion that history itself has an intrinsic goal. Among the problems implicitly considered in relation to the theory of secularization in Meaning in History is a theme frequently addressed in earlier writings: the motives that led German intellectuals like Friedrich Gogarten, Martin Heidegger, and Carl Schmitt to adhere to the Nazi movement.

My aim in this article is to analyze the topic of making history versus talking about history in order to understand most historians' evident decision to ignore talking about history. Ultimately my goal is to determine whether it is possible to talk about history with any sense. To this end, I will establish a typology of the different forms of talking practiced by historians, using a chronological approach, from the Greek and Roman emphasis on the visual witness to present-day narrativism and textual analysis. Having recognized the peculiar textual character of the historiographical work, I will then discuss whether one can speak of a method for analyzing historiographical works.

This involves breaking the dichotomy between making and talking about history, adopting a fuzzy method that overcomes the isolation of self-named scientific communities, and that destroys the barriers among disciplines that work with the same texts but often from mutually excluding perspectives. Talking about history is only possible if one knows about history and about its sources and methods, but also about the foundations of the other social sciences and about the continuing importance of traditional philosophical problems of Western thought in the fields of history and the human sciences.

History and Theory, Theme Issue 38 December , In the philosophy of science there has traditionally been a tendency to regard physics as the incarnation of science per se. Accordingly, the status of other disciplines is evaluated then with respect to their ability to produce laws resembling those of physics. This view has yielded a considerable bias in the discussion of historical laws.

Philosophers as well as historians have tended to discuss such laws mostly with reference to the situation in physics; this often led to either one of two conclusions, namely that 1 history is epistemologically completely separated from natural science, because it does not have universal laws, or that 2 the ultimate goal of the study of history must be the formulation of such universal laws. I would maintain that neither conclusion is necessary. To substantiate this position, aspects of laws in nature are discussed.

One aspect being often neglected is the fact that there are many cases of statistical laws in nature; there is no close link between laws and determinism. Moreover, there are natural systems which have a history, i. One important case is biological evolution and accordingly I discuss the relation between evolutionary theory and historiography. However, since we are part of the living world, one could also ask whether the laws of evolution are of direct relevance for understanding our history, in addition to the methodological similarities between the two fields.

Croce between Hughes & White

This issue of history as evolution is being investigated in detail in the final section of the paper. History and Theory 36 May , — Pocock and Quentin Skinner have led a recent onslaught on the alleged "myth of coherence" in the history of ideas. But their criticisms depend on mistaken views of the nature of mind: respectively, a form of social constructionism, and a focus on illocutionary intentions at the expense of beliefs.

An investigation of the coherence constraints that do operate on our ascriptions of belief shows historians should adopt a presumption of coherence, concern themselves with coherence, and proceed to reconstruct sets of beliefs as coherent wholes. The history of ideas merges history with aspects of philosophy, where philosophy is understood as the study of the grammar of our concepts.

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A model of culture as a partially coherent system of signs comprised the most widely employed instrument for analyzing cultural meaning among the new cultural historians. However, the model failed to account for meanings that are produced by agents engaged in practices that are not guided by "reading" the contrasts among signs. It also encouraged some analysts to conceive the difference between sign system and concrete practice as that between what is graspable as an intellectual form and what remains inaccessibly material or corporeal.

This essay introduces three exemplars of the ties between signs and practices to show how the pragmatics of using signs comprises a structure and a generator of meaning in its own right. In the three exemplars, which are based on the tropes of metonymy, metaphor, and irony, I employ the analytic tools of linguistics to appreciate the non-discursive organization of practice. Analysis of the diverse logics for organizing practice offers promising means for investigating how signs come to seem experientially real for their users.

Finally, this view of culture in practice suggests new hypotheses about the possible interdependencies as well as the lack of connection among the elements of a cultural setting. Recent advances in the theory of dynamical systems, set-valued analysis, and viability theory offer new and interesting perspectives on the shaping of social and historical time.

Specific aspects of these theories are presented in several different areas to show their concrete applications in history and historical demo-economy, and a parallel is established with novelist Tanizaki's fictional technique. In connection with this, McCloskey's comparison of storytelling with deterministic chaos is discussed and a critique of other models concerned with unpredictability in human affairs provided. Finally, the shapings of social and historical time are described in terms of the viable strategies at the heart of evolutionary processes involving human agents interacting with a variety of constraints.

History, Philosophy of | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Everywhere the s have been characterized by an odd mixture of ideological triumphalism-Fukuyama's "end of history" being only the crassest example-and of ideological uncertainty-can there be, should there be, a "third way"? For all its pretensions to universality, the "New World Order" has never lost a fragility in appearance. Students of historiography can scarcely be surprised to learn that an uneasiness over the present and future has in turn frequently entailed uncertainty about the past and particularly about those parts of the past which had seemed most able to give clear and significant "lessons.

One evident example is the history of what in my Explaining Auschwitz and Hiroshima I called the "long" Second World War, that is, that crisis in confidence in the relationship between political and economic liberalism and the nation-state which, by the end of , had left only Britain, France, the Low Countries, and Scandinavia as in any sense preserving those "liberal" freedoms which had spread across Europe since In this article, I briefly review the most recent difficulties World War II combatant societies have had in locating a usable past in the history of those times.

However, my major focus is on the specific case of Italy, very much a border state in the Cold War system, and today the political home of an "Olive Tree" and a "Liberty Pole" whose historical antecedents and whose philosophical base for the future are less than limpid. History and Theory , Theme Issue 39 December , A gender revolution allegedly occurred in the British Cape Colony and South Africa at large in the nineteenth century. African patriarchs, traditionally pastoralists, took over women's agricultural work, adopted Victorian gender attributes, and became prosperous peasants nicknamed "black English".

I re-examine them, for Bundy's "Case Study" of Herschel, acclaimed as one of the regions that best fits his thesis. This Case Study omits women, who were the typical peasant producers. It marginalizes men failing to conform to bourgeois Victorian gender norms. It misrepresents class formation, causation, periodization, and peasant well-being.

It misdates proletarianization by at least three decades.

Hayden White: An Introduction

The zenith of commodity production is misdated by at least half a century. A labor reservoir characterized by severe subsistence problems is represented as a prosperous peasantry. Bundy postulates that patriarchs "rose" into women's work and colonial masculine scripts in response to favorable conditions; I argue instead that younger men "fell" into these domains in response to disasters. A silent gender bias-towards black Englishmen, against African women-had a marked impact on Bundy's analysis of class formation.

The purpose of this article is to interrogate this silence and to show how it has warped a classic text. What motivated British colonialism? What motivated renaissance Florentines to finance their state? Why did Brazilian men find mixed-race women so attractive? What promotes falsity in reports of human affairs?

Why did historical mindedness develop in ancient Greece and China but not India? When homosexual communities developed, why did gay men pursue sexual strategies so different from those of lesbians?

Croce between Hughes & White

Why does a Heian-period Japanese description of fear of snakes sound so familiar to a Westerner? Why have rebels tended to be youngest rather than eldest siblings? To each of these and many other questions part of the answer lies in specific, identifiable features of human nature. Thus human nature is and should be a subtantial concern to anyone trying to understand the past. But human nature is also an object of scientific study. This paper explores a portion of this convergence of humanistic and scientific concerns by outlining and illustrating interrelations between human nature and history.

Exploration of the interrelations between history and human nature requires a detailed understanding of what human nature is. And whatever human nature may be, it is a product of human evolution. Accordingly, key concepts in evolutionary psychology are presented to provide theoretical tools for understanding the centerpiece of human nature, the human mind. As much as the study of history may benefit from an understanding of human nature, the study of history and the use of historical materials may also promote the scientific study of human nature.

Examples are given and several suggestions are presented to forward this task. Finally, an argument is made for a sort of back engineering in which historical events and conditions are traced to the specific features of human nature that motivated, facilitated, or shaped them. Insofar as this task is achieved, it closes the gap between recorded history and evolutionary history, between the humanities and the sciences.

Philosophers and historians have long been suspicious of modal and counterfactual claims. I argue, however, that historians often legitimately use modal and counterfactual claims for a variety of purposes. They help identify causes, and hence help explain events in history.


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They are used to defend judgments about people, and to highlight the importance of particular events. I defend these uses of modal claims against two arguments often used to criticize modal reasoning, using the philosophy of science to ground the truth of modal claims. This analysis puts several important points into perspective, including how certain we can be about our claims about what might have been, and the role that determinism plays in those claims.

The proper analysis of modality shows, I argue, that counterfactual claims are legitimate and important, if often uncertain, and that issues of determinism are irrelevant to the modal claims used in historical analysis. This article outlines the theoretical developments experienced in historical studies over the last two decades. As a consequence of the growing critical reconsideration of some of the main theoretical assumptions underlying historical explanation of individuals' meaningful actions, a new theory of society has taken shape among historians during this time.

By emphasizing the empirical and analytical distinction between language as a pattern of meanings and language as a means of communication, a significant group of historians has thoroughly recast the conventional notions of society, experience, interests, culture, and identity, and has developed a new concept of social action.

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