Lots of things i could say to this - given that my first degree was in
politics and modern history, i know first hand the suspicion of historians
to Foucault's work. I've just picked up a copy of Richard Evans' The Defence
of History, which was heavily discounted :o) A 'pretty much as you'd expect'
attempt by a 'traditional' historian against the 'poststructuralist'
assault... I've had a quick look through, and it looks pretty superficial.
Why is that historians (such as Keith Windshuttle a few years back, and now
Evans) berate these poststructuralists for their lack of work with the
'sources', the archives, and their reliance on 'discourse' and then so
patently fail to read the people they criticise??
Evans for example, reading the cover blurb and the chapter heads looks to be
tackling F head on, but his sense of what he is about is incredibly
superficial. A few generalisms about power knowledge and discourse. Why do
these historians neglect the very basics of intellectual history???
Behalf Of Jeffrey
Sent: 11 March 2000 18:14
Subject: Re: History of ...
As for anyone believing in "historical truth" ... well, professional
historians do, I think it is safe to say. They will acknowledge that the
subjective standpoint of the historian, or the limits of the evidence,
etc., will be reflected in the work they produce, but they think there is a
objective, real "past" that they represent as faithfully as can be done.
Hence my desire to see a genealogy, a history of the present, a
nomodology--a poststructuralist-informed historiographic analysis--that
would turn it's lens on the practice of the discipline of history itself.
A discipline which is still overwhelmingly informed by, and acts on in
powerful ways, a different set of assumptions, than, for example, Foucault
did. Traditional, conventional, professional, "modern" historians, through
their monographs, and their more synthetic works, and their textbooks, and
their dissertation committees, and their graduate seminars, and their
undergraduate lectures, etc., are able to frame the manner in which "the
past" and/or "history" is discussed in the society at large. They
construct, and police the boundaries of, the "common sense" of history.
Foucauldian work (or it's equivalent) is still a rare thing within the
discipline of history. Even the most seemingly attentive philosophers of
history are by and large casting aside the unpleasant questions that '68
eventually brought to their corner of the scholarly world and saying, in
effect, "we're past that now" (translated: we can go _back_ to business as
usual). And the historians themselves don't pay much attention to
philosophy of history to begin with. It is barely even taught in graduate
school, which is much more about preparing students to get on with the
business of "normal science", training them in the "craft" of history, the
exercise of which will allow them to contribute to the collective project
by plugging in holes in the literature without raising any fundamental
questions about the paradigm itself. Poststructuralist historiography has
to challenge those unexamined assumptions, it has to strive to overturn the
Or, to leave behind the Kuhnsian metaphors, lets put it this way. The
discipline of history has erected the city, the State, against which
nomadic historiographers must erect a war machine. We must write a history
(many histories) of the present that reveals the constructedness, the
contingent nature of conventional historiographer's history of the past.
We need to demonstrate the manner in which historians essentially invent
the past (and this work has, thank god, begun), and we must describe the
descent (_Herkunft_, yes) of these discursive practices, but I think we
also need to be sure we extend this beyond literary analysis, linking it to
all the practices (and, of course, this goes beyond the practices
associated with professional disciplinary history) that make this way of
seeing manifest in our lives.
What I think this is about, then, is the present; it's not (and never has
been, and never can be) about knowing "the past". It's about the ways in
which "the past" functions in the relations of power that we confront in
the present. It's about intervening to "fight the power," to "fight the
powers that be."
So, to put a finer point on what I would like to see a history of, I would
like to see the _Metahistory_ that would be written by a poststructuralist,
not a structuralist. I would like to see what a poststructuralist would
come up with if they talked about the things Peter Novick talked about in
_That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question" and the American Historical
Profession_. I would like to see what would come of an attempt to write a
genealogy of American history as an academic discipline (cf. David R.
Shumway's _Creating American Civilization: A Genealogy of American
Literature as an Academic Discipline_).
On Koselleck, Chris, I have the book, but I must confess I've never
actually made my way through it. I've read the introduction, and I guess
that while I see it as something interesting and important, it also seems
at first glance that his work isn't really about the same thing Foucault et
al. are about, which is why it hasn't gravitated to the top of the "to
read" pile for me, yet.
The first question that comes to mind for me regarding Koselleck is: How
compatable is his practice of _Begriffsgeschichte_, and the theory that
informs it, with the poststructuralist assumptions that inform Foucauldian
work? My current assumption, admittedly based on a too-cursory look at the
book, is: not enough to move him to the top of the pile. But if he's more
pertinant to a Foucauldian than he seems, I'm open to persuasion.