Iggers - The New Historiography in Historical Perspective

January 5, 2018 | Author: Pete Sampras | Category: Historiography, Max Weber, Science, Marxism, Historian
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Iggers - The New Historiography in Historical Perspective...


T h e New Historiography in H istori cal Perspective* By GEORG. G. IGGERS I n contrast to the confidence regarding the validity and utility of historical science which dominated historical thought in the nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, a deep malaise has made itself felt regarding history in recent decades, in Germany quite clearly since the first world war, in the United States a t least since the 1930s. The confidence of a Ranke, a Michelet, or a Macaulay, or still in our century of a Bury, a Croce, or a Meinecke, that history was the key to the understanding of things human, has been replaced b y a pessimism regarding the possibility of scientific historical knowledge. The elements of subjectivity in historical knowledge were recognized as was the supposed inadequacy of history to arrive a t any meaningful generalizations possessing a degree of objective validity. Nietzsche had already spoken of the irrelevance of historical scholarship to modem man. Theodor Lessing immediately after the first world war viewed history as an irrational attempt to read subjective desires into a meaningless subject matter. If history had any social function, the German decisionist thinkers of the 1920s argued, it was as myth, not as science. In the United States this pessimism was reflected in the subjectivismobjectivism debate touched off by Carl Becker and Charles Beard’s essays in the 1930s and continued after 1945 in the Social Science Research Council Bulletins on historiography.l In the only comprehensive study of the theoretical assumptions of contemporary Western historiography written anywhere, a study which despite its ideological bias is intelligent and perceptive, the Leningrad philosopher Igor Kon observes : ‘Modern bourgeois historiographers all agree that the very foundations of historical science have become doubtful, that historical science is shot through and through with the ideas of relativism and that the methods as well as the results of historical research have shown themselves to be increasingly vacillating and unreliable.’? Yet there may be a danger of confusing historical theory with historical practice. If the past decades have marked an increasing awareness of relativism in historical knowledge, they have by no means resulted in a decline in historical scholarship. The years since the second world war have indeed seen in Europe as well as the United States an unusual expansion in the amount of historical scholarship, expenmentation with new methods, and a broadening of the scope of historical research by the opening of new areas of human life and new geographical regions to historical *A paper delivered at the annual meeting of the New York State -4ssociation of European Historians held at Marymount College, 17-18 October 1969. ‘Particularly Bulletins # 46, The Social Sciences in Historical Study. A Report of the Committee on Historiography (New York: 1946) and Bulletin # 54 Theory and Practice i n Historical Study. A Report of the Committee on Historiography (New York: 1954). ¶I. S. Kon, D i e Geschichtsphilosophie des 20. Jahvhundevts (Berlin: 1964) I. I.


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inquiry to an extent that H. S. Hughes has perhaps too sanguinely commented that ‘it is quite possible that the study of history today is entering a period of rapid change and advance such as characterized physics in the first decades of the twentieth century.I3 What Hughes is suggesting, and I believe rightly, is that what has occurred has not been a crisis in historiography as such but an increasing questioning of the theoretical assumptions and methodological procedures of the classical idealistic conventional tradition of historiography.

I Modem historical scholarship as a professional discipline had its origin a t the early nineteenth century German university. From its beginning it was wedded to basically idealist notions regarding the nature of history and historical science. This idealism reflected the pre-industrial and pre-democratic character of the society in which modem historical scholarship arose in the post-Napoleonic Restauration period. I n the course of the nineteenth century, as historical study became professionalized and university based throughout the Western and the westernized world, German historical scholarship, and with it many of its idealistic assumptions, became a model for historians everywhere. The basic methodological conceptions, which became the basis for professional historical writing almost everywhere in the world, were best formulated in Ranke’s writings and in his seminars. Ranke wished to raise historical studies to the level of a rigorous science. His method of inquiry and model of explanation differed, however, fundamentally from those of the natural sciences. They rested on certain basic assumptions regarding the nature and character of history which were later shared by the entire idealistic tradition of historical science. Each individual in history is a unique centre of meaning which cannot be reduced to a general denominator. The same applies to the great collective bodies, such as states, nations and churches, which have grown in the course of history. Nature is thesceneof the eternallyrecurring, of phenomena devoid of conscious purpose ;history comprises unique and unduplicable human acts. At every moment in history something new emerges; every individual and every institution represents a new force irreducible to causal schematization. Generalizations have no place in history; they violate the individuality and spontaneit y of historical reality. The historian must not explain, that is, fit historical phenomena into causal schemes; his aim is the understanding (Verstehen) of the unique individualities that compose history in their own terms. Social and historical processes are therefore incapable of scientific analysis. The scientific character of history rests not in its theoretical formulations, but in its critical reconstruction of the past as it actually occurred. This reconstruction must be based on documentary evidence. Without documents there is no history. Pre-literate peoples have no history. The reliance on documents, however, implies that history deals only Mith the conscious volitions, intentions and actions of men. I t introduces a bias for statesmen-oriented political history. Although Ranke does not outright reject economic or social history, he nevertheless regards the realm of impersonal forces as unhistorical. 3H. Stuart Hughes, History as Art and as Science (New York: 1964), pp. 20-21.


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Two consequences follow from this conception of history: (1) a bias against theory. Ranke thought it unnecessary for the historian to ask questions of history. Such questions would distort historical reality. The past, he insisted, speaks directly to the historian. Narration is therefore the only possible form of scientific historical presentation. If we assume that the actions of men can be understood in terms of their conscious motives, then the narrative provides its own explanation. (2) an insistence on the value neutrality of the historian. Objectivity requires that he understand every historical individuality in terms of its own values. Ranke’s fact-oriented approach was by no means non-philosophical. It rested on the metaphysical assumptions of the Ideenlehre that ‘every human individuality is an idea rooted in actuality’,* that every state was the expression of a unique principle, an idea originating from God. Ranke excluded philosophic questioning from history not because he considered these questions to be irrelevant to the historian, but because he assumed that the facts themselves, as the reflection of divine truth, and only the facts would reveal the great coherences in history to the historian who immersed himself in them. History, for Ranke was the manifestation of God’s will; a will, which unlike Hegel‘s absolute spirit, did not fulfill itself in a unified cosmic process, but expressed itself in the diversity of individualities that composed history. Historical study, rather than opening the way to ethical relativism and nihilism, therefore provided the only key to values and to philosophic truth. The theological basis on which Ranke’s faith rested was, however, thoroughly undermined in the nineteenth century. Deprived of its cultural content, the classical tradition of scientific history tended to deteriorate into a narrow fact-finding positivism. This was particularly true outside of Germany where the idealistic theoretical assumptions upon which this methodology rested, had often been misunderstood while in Germany Ranke’s conservative political ethics which saw in political power an expression of,spirituality gave way to the naturalistic ethics of national power of Treitschke and the Neo-Rankians. The Rankean methodology with its aristocratic bias, however, reflected its origins in a pre-democratic and pre-industrial society. It was little suited to take into account the great social processes operating in a technological mass society. By the end of the century, the traditional so-called scientifichistory was effectively challenged almost simultaneously in Germany, France and in the United States. Lamprecht in the famous Methodenstreit, as the controversy came to be known in Germany, insisted that 1) history is a social science which must seek generalizations and laws; 2) that political phenomena must not be taken a t their face value but must be understood within the larger framework of the society and the culture. More modest in their claims regarding the scientific character of history, Henri Berr in France, Henri Pirenne in Belgium and the ‘New Historians’ in the United States-Frederick Jackson Turner, James Harvey Robinson and Charles Beard-nevertheless, called upon the historian to apply broad hypotheses to historical inquiry and to integrate the methods of the other social sciences into historical practice. 4Wilhelm von Humboldt, ‘On the Historian’s Task (1821)’, History and Theory, VI, 1967, 69.

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The debate which ensued at the turn of the century regarding the character of history as a science has continued to the present. The traditional historiography remained intact. In Germany, Karl Lamprecht, whose position was seen by the profession not only as an attack against German idealistic conceptions but also conservative political institutions, was essentially isolated. In the more democratic climate of France and the United States, the new social science orientation made slow but definite inroads. The idealistic tradition reasserted itself, particularly in Italy, with Croce, and in Germany, with Meinecke. At the same time the philosophic attack against the scientific character of history-collingwood, Becker, Beard, Raymond Aron-intensified. It is only the most recent decades which have seen a major confrontation of idealistic and social science traditions generally in the Western world. I1 It is impossible to reduce the developments in historical scholarship in recent years to a few simple denominators. I shall limit myself to the four orientations, none of them new, which I consider to be the most important influences in present day Western and Central Europe, including the traditional idealistic historiography which remains very much alive especially in the area of diplomatic history. What unites the three others is the conscious attempt to reintroduce theory into historical writing, to make history into a social science which will again approach certain of the problems regarding the condition and direction of man which the traditional historiography believed did not fall into the realm of scholarly historical inquiry. We in the United States tend to underestimate the impact of Marxism on historical science outside the Communist countries. We think of it as a nineteenth century doctrine now largely discarded b y social science. Marxism, together with the Annales orientation, however, probably constitutes the strongest theoretical influence in historical writing in Western Europe-in France, certainly since the 1930s; in more recent years also in Italy and England (we need only mention Hill, Hobsbawm, Thompson, RudC), considerably less so in West Germany. In the United States, to be sure, its influence has been marginal although it made itself felt recently among some of the historians of the New Left. We also generally operate with an oversimplified concep tion of Marxism as a simplistic and dogmatic materialism, such as outlined in some of Engels’ later, more popular pamphlets. In their more serious theoretical writings, Marx and Engels acknowledged the role of non-economic factors. They were b y no means economic determinists in their historical writings. The defeat of the 1848 revolutions in Germany and France as discussed in Revolution and Counterrevolutiolt in Germany and the Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte was not viewed by them as the inevitable result of impersonal social forces; voluntaristic factors entered, the courage or lack of courage of political personalities, of groups, ideological factors, the lack of political education. The core of Marx’s position, the interaction of freedom and necessity in history, is summed up by Marx in the opening passages of the Eighteenth Brumaire: ‘Men make their own history, but they do not make it just they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given, and transmitted from the past.” 6Karl M a r x , The 18th Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (New Y o r k : 1963). p. 16.


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In more dogmatic form, Marxism posited an almost mechanical relationship of the political and ideological superstructure to its economic basis and a narrow, predetermined scheme of world historical development. In a more sophisticated form, it stressed that ideas and political factors can never be seen in a vacuum but only in their social setting, in relationship to other forces, some below the conscious level. But, Marx warns, ‘the materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing, and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that it is men that change circumstances.’6 What is interesting about Marx and Engels is their attempt scientifically to study trends in historical development. They sought to do so by means of a model, based on a partially faulty analysis of capitalism in one nineteenth-century society, Great Britain, and operating with an overly narrow conception of human motivations. Nevertheless their model was applicable to historical development and capable of empirical validation. Since the 1920s it has provided the main source or working hypotheses for the study of the phenomena of revolution, the process of modernization, economic growth, and imperialism. Marxist historiography in the West has by no means been a closed system but rather a fertile source of working hypotheses in contrast to the communist countries, where much but by no means all historical scholarship generally accepted dialectical materialism as a scientific body of facts not requiring historical validation. Marxist questions have in fact often led to non-Marxist conclusions. This has been true of the large literature in France, Great Britain, and the United States which has devoted itself, to sociological, often quantitative analyses of class factors in various French Revolutions, studies which have often led to basic revisions of Marxists concepts of class.’ The Marxist position, however, has been not only to interpret, but to change the world. Scholarly interest has always been connected to ethical and political concerns. We may be thankful to Marxism for having challenged the notion of the value neutrality of the social scientist as formulated by Ranke and Weber. There can be no argument with the Rankean position that the historian must not read the values of the present into the past but must understand the past in its own terms. I t does not follow from this, however, as Ranke and Weber would have us to, that the historian may not go beyond the understanding (Verstehelz)of the value patterns of a society, to a critical analysis of these values in the light of reason or science. Ranke assumed that values were not subject to rational inquiry because they had their basis in divine will, Weber because he considered the whole realm of values to the irrational. Both assumed that things are what they show themselves to be, that facticity is identical with reality. The dialectical approach, however, assumes that ‘the real field of knowledge is not the given fact about things as they are, but the critical evaluation of them as a prelude to passing beyond their given form.’s To see @From‘Thesis on Feuerbach’ in Marx and Engels, Basic Writings on Politics and Philosophy, ed. Lewis S . Feuer (Garden City: 1959), p. 244. ‘In this connection the exchange of articles in the American Historical Review, E. L. Eisenstein ‘Who Intervened in 1788: A Commentary on the Coming of the French Revolution,’ LXXI 1965-1966, 77-103 and J. Kaplow, G. Shapiro, E. Eisenstein, ‘Class in the French Revolution’ LXXII, 1966-67, 497-522, is of particular interest. 8HerbertMarcuse, Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise ofSocial Theory (Boston: 1960). p. 145.

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in war and domination an expression of spirituality as Ranke did, or an unalterable biological fact as Treitschke and Weber did, may be acceptable to an earlier generation; it appears absurd in the midst of the horrors of our time. The Marxist position, of course, rests on an act of faith in man’s humanity as a rational norm by which historical institutions can be judged. I t assumes that there is not merely a dialectical process in the history of science in which error is progressively negated but also a dialectical process within the social sphere in which the inner contradictions within society, contradictions which represent the alienation of man from his own nature, lead to developments in the direction of a more rational order. This, of course, is a grandiose hypothesis but one with sufficient foundations in our age of revolutions t o deserve serious study. The second important influence on modem historical practice which should be mentioned a t this point is that of Max Weber. In Weber as in Marx we must distinguish the methodological concepts from the grandiose conceptions of history which are nevertheless valuable as working hypotheses. Weber in a sense combined the best in the idealistic tradition, the recognition of historical individuality, which was lacking in Marx, and the Verstehen approach, with a rigorous methodology. Fully recognizing the residues of irrationality in human behavior, Weber nevertheless recognized that such behavior is never without a degree of structure and regularity. Unpredictability, he observed, is the privilege of the insane. These elements of recurrence, of structure, permitted the formulations of generalizations of limited scope, ideal types, which took into full account the uniqueness of every historical situation, but which made nevertheless possible the comparability of persons, social systems, and cultures. In a sense Weber’s thought was a dialogue with Marx. Like Marx and Tocqueville, he considered the question of the direction of social change to be a legitimate task for history. History was not merely a science of the past but one of the present and the future. Weber, too, discovered direction in history, a t least in the West, a process of rationalization which expressed itself in all aspects of life, religion, science, the economy, political structure, but which was not necessarily identical with a development towards greater humanity. Weber took into account factors which Marx had considered of lesser importance, basic life attitudes, the inner logic of development of institutions-e.g. the trend toward bureaucratization, the drive for power, and the unpredictable element introduced by the charismatic leader. Marx’s view of history, moreover, had been thoroughly Europo-centric. It took the emergence of capitalism in Western and Central Europe as noimative for the entire world. Weber, on the other hand, sought to define the unique characteristics of Western development and the nature of the modem world through a broad comparative analysis of non-Western cultures. The impact of Weber on contemporary historiography has been immense, but is much more difficult to measure than that of Marxism. In Germany, he ‘introduce[d] conceptual rigor into a tradition where either intuition or a naive concern for the ‘facts’ had hitherto ruled un~hallenged.’~ Among German historians, Hintze represented most closely Weber’s point of view. Like his teacher Gustav Schmoller, Hintze succeeded in bridging the gap which had existed between economic and OCf. H . Stuart Hughes, Consciousness and Society, p p . 302-303.


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political history and to study capitalism not as Marx and Sombart had done as an autonomous economic individual but as part and parcel of a unique Western culture with its attitudinal patterns and its bureaucratic state apparatus. In more recent years, Weber rather than American or French social science has provided the patterns by which German historians-for example the so-called school of Strukturgeschichte and such political science oriented historians like K. D. Bracher-sought to reintroduce theory and institutional analysis into historical practice. Even more recently, Barrington Moore’s Social Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy, Lord and Peasant i n the Making of the Modern World, published in 1966, has shown how Marxist and Weberian concepts and methods can be effectively combined in a broad comparative study of political modernization in various Western and non-Western societies. The most ambitious attempt at a reorientation of historiography has, however, occurred in France in the form of the Annales movement which has as yet received surprisingly little attention in the United States despite the impact which it has had in recent years not only on the historiography of all of the Western European countries but also on the more liberal of the communist countries, especially Poland. The forerunner of the Annales journal was Henri Berr’s Revue de la Synthdse founded in 1900 which sought the integration of the social sciences into historical study. If the spirit of Henri Berr, Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre in 1929 founded the Annales, a journal, as the subtitle indicated, for the study of social and economic history. But from the beginning the journal attempted to do more than this. In contrast to the Marxist approach, Bloch and Febvre were centrally concerned with the facts of human consciousness. Febvre wrote a biography of Luther and one of Rabelais; Bloch in Les rois thaumaturges studied the popular medieval belief that the kings of England and France could miraculously heal scrofula through their powof touch. But the history of consciousness was understood not as intellectual history in the sense of Croce or Meinecke, as the study of ideas of the great personalities of an age, but as the ‘collective consciousness’ of a society within its material and institutional setting. Bloch and Febvre rejected the positivistic concern with political actions as a superficial ‘histoire CvCnementielle’ and in its place sought to uncover an ‘histoire structurelle’ which sought to lay bare the long enduring ‘structures’ of a society. Such a history, which Bloch attempted in the Feudal Society, seeks to be total history, to study politics, economics, technology, myths, social organization in an age, using not merely written documents but all traces which permit reconstruction of a social pattern. Such history has been called neo-positivistic because it sought to base itself on the concrete material remnants of a culture. In his work, La Mkditmande et le monde mkditerrant!eert ri l’kpoque de Philippe 11 (Paris, 1949), which became a model for the ‘school’, Braudel treated the history of the Mediterranean world in the age of Philip I1 on three levels, each with its own historical time, that of the ‘permanent’ aspects, the geographic factors of the Mediterranean world, of the relatively stable social and economic sphere with its cyclical movements of conjmture and recession, and thirdly the political sphere in which political personalities played a decisive role. The second, the ‘social time’ of long duration, in contrast to the ‘individual time’ of short duration of the third type, was of primary interest to Braudel. This second area was the sphere of ‘unconscious history’ which best suited itself to the application of

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models and social mathematics. E. Labrousse’s study oi price fluctuations and their impact on the outbreak of the French Revolution were in the spirit of the Annales group. It is questionable, however, whether the Annales historians ever succeeded in effectively linking political to social history. In Braudel’s L a Miditerranhe, the third sphere, that of political events, remained basically ‘histoire superficielle’, a realm of accidents which Braudel regarded as essentially uninteresting for the historian while his treatment of the social sphere essentially ignored the role of political decisions. The interest of the Annales group broadened itself, as the changes of the title t o Annales. Economies. Sociitis. Civilisations. indicated, to a broad study of all aspects of human behavior in the past. The goal of history Febvre believed was to serve as the ‘science of man’, not of the ‘isolated man’ but of the ‘hornme en groupe’, in Braudel’s words, the concrete ‘homme social’ in contrast to the abstract individual. History, Febvre believed, was to be the central social science. The Annales historians, in part influenced by Claude Lhvy-Strauss, moved closer to a meeting of history and anthropology and became concerned not only with the material basis, for example the role of food and clothing in the cultural and political development of medieval or early modern Europe, but also of non-European and primitive societies with a strong emphasis on comparative studies. At the same time Annales historians sought to fathom the collective psyche as Mandrou did in his Magistrats et Sorciers en France a u X V I I e sikcle. U n e analyse de psychologie historique (Paris, 1968) which investigated the abandonment of persecution for witchcraft as part of a ‘dislocation of a mental structure which for centuries had formed an integral part of the world view.’ Nevertheless despite their attempt to make history into a science of man, the Annales historians have always rejected world historical speculations, including those of Marx and Weber. The historian, they urge, must approach his subject matter with questions, working hypotheses drawn from the social sciences; the facts do not speak for themselves. But they agree with Ranke that the historian must confront his facts, that his generalizations must have a firm foundation in his data, and that he may not go far beyond. In recent years, the Annales school has attained an unusual dominance in French historical research and received considerable attention abroad, in Great Britain, in Italy, in West Germany, and to an extent also in the more liberal of the communist countries, e.g. Poland. Lucien Febvre and Fernand Braudel have emphatically denied the existence of an Annales school; at most there is an Annales spirit they say. Probably in no non-communist country is social research so well organized and subsidized by a central agency as it is in France. The men around the Annales journal have not only controlled the famous Sixihme Section of the Ecole Pratiques de Hautes Etudes but have also had the decisive voice in social science allocations by the Conseil National de Recherches Scientifiques, the national research council which subsidizes a great part of historical research in France. This has made possible the extensive team stu&es and quantitative investigations which Lucien Febvre has demanded. It may be indicative nevertheless of the nature of historical studies, that the outstanding works which have come out of this orientation have been those largely written by individuals, Bloch, Labrousse, Braudel, and Mandrou. There is a degree of justification t o the arguments raised by Gerhard Ritter, Pierre Renouvin, and others against the Annales circle, that they have neglected the


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central role of political power. There is no society without structure of authority and domination. Social history is not a discovery of the twentieth century. The great problem is to relate social history to political history, something which the Marxists and Weberians have done a good deal more successfully than the Annales people. I t is true that impersonal forces play a much greater role in the complex technological mass society of our day than they did in Ranke’s, but so does the state. To be sure political decisions always take place in a concrete social and historical context, yet there is inevitably a personal element in political decisions. Lenin and Stalin left their personal imprint on the character of the Soviet Union, Hitler on Nazi Germany. Crucial political decisions have been made by individuals, whether Hindenburg’s dismissal of Briining in 1932, Johnson’s commitment of American troops to an Asian landwar in 1965, or Nasser’s closure of the Straits of Tiran, decisions of immeasurable consequences which took place in a definite setting but appeared to have been by no means inevitable. Never before has the very physical survival of the world rested in the hands of so few persons, in a position to press the button, as in our days of nuclear weapons. There is thus a residue of historical action which appears not to fit, let us say, into a cybernetic model of society. The classical tradition of historiography is thus right in pointing at an element of spontaneity and uniqueness especially in the realm of political behavior. There may also be an element of ‘irrationality’ in the religious, cultural, and national values of collective bodies which may more decisively effect political decisions than mere ‘rational’ factors such as economic or diplomatic interests. Paul Renouvin has pointed at such emotional and ideological factors in refuting the Marxist interpretation of the outbreak of world war I. I t may very well be, as the classical idealistic tradition has maintained, that there is an element of human nature which defies rational reduction but this does not mean that it is incapable of conceptual comprehension. A scientific inquiry into human behavior need by no means show an unbroken link of causal regularity, as the scientism of the nineteenth century insisted. It is quite conceivable that there are ruptures and irregularities which cannot be reduced to mathematical relationships but which for this reason do not yet defy all rational inquiry. But the task of historical science is not to reduce human phenomena to strict regularities but to extend man’s rational understanding of his past.

I11 This survey has been consciously selective. It barely touches on quantification and various forms of integration of social science methods and history which have played an important role in the Annales approach and to a lesser extent in Marxist historiography but have especially in the United States developed relatively independently from either of these two orientations. It ignores a man like Namier who does not fit nicely into either the conventional or the modern trend we have traced. It also neglects the broad literature, particularly in the area of diplomatic history, which continues along traditional lines and which has found its theoretical defender in Germany in the empassioned writings of Gerhard Ritter. The idea that the historian is in search of regularities is strongly rejected by British historical theorists such as Isaiah Berlin and Karl Popper. Nevertheless there is a broad agreement today, even among diplomatic historians like Paul Renouvin who in many ways are critical of the

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Annales approach, that history must investigate the interrelation of politics and social forces and that the individualizing method is inadequate for this purpose. It is generally recognized that there is no history without theory. Neither the adherents of the Artnales orientation nor the majority of serious Marxist historians in the West have, however, offered a closed system of history as classical dialectical materialism or certain of the speculative philosophies of history did, nor have they even maintained the certainty of the classical idealistic tradition. They, particularly the historians of the Annales circle, have realized how tentative and exploratory all historical investigation is. They have nevertheless rejected the position outlined by Charles Seignobes in 1924 in the Introduction to his History of Europe and still maintained by many conventional historians, that history is a series of accidents incapable of rational explanations. In the main the trend represented by Marxism, the Annales orientation, and various other attempts to utilize social science methods marks an effort to extend the scientific character of history. Unwilling to offer total explanations, Marxists, Annalists, and social science oriented historians seek to find methods to deal with a t least a part of the sphere of human actions which traditional historians considered to be outside the realm of scientific investigation. This conception of history as a social science, however, stands in direct conflict with the notion popular in twentieth-century historical thought that all historical knowledge is subjective, conditioned by the personality of the historian and the sociohistorical setting within which he writes, and that therefore any objective knowledge of history is impossible. All history, Croce writes-without arriving at fully subjectivistic conclusions-is contemporary history which tells us more about the present than about the past. Becker carries this position further and argues (as does the German writer Theodor Lessing) that every man is his own historian, that, in other words, history is an act of subjective, i.e., arbitrary creation. The past as such exists only in the thoughts of the historian. I t seems to me, however, that this subjectivism rests on an obvious fallacy. The historian is never a being in the abstract but works within a concrete sociocultural historical context and is confronted by a past which too appears in a definite historical context. This, of course, does not exclude the presentist argument that all history is present history reflecting the interests and perspectives of the present. This is true, but only to a limited extent. For in a sense the situation of the historian is not that different from that of the natural scientist who, too, reflects the thought patterns of his time. But both are confronted with an actual sublect matter. In a sense, of course, it is the past which speaks to the historian. To permit the ideal of the present to dictate our perception of the past is to admit ideological distortion. Although the historian like the scientist lives within a definite setting, the basic rules of logical and scientific procedure, whether in the natural sciences or in history, are not entirely culture bound. Mathematics and logic may be products of a culture but they possess a validity which transcends the culture. Historical mindedness requires, as Ranke correctly taught, that we seek to understand the past in its own terms. To achieve this the historian must be consciously self-critical of his manner of procedure. The questions he asks will reflect the interests of his time; the conclusions he reaches will, if he is an honest historian, avoid present-mindedness, although he will never emancipate himself completely from the thought patterns of his time which he carries into the past


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or even be fully conscious of them. The result is a picture of the past which is always subject to correction, not only because of the lack of documentation but also because the historian from the perspective of his time, which leads him to ask certain questions rather than others, will see only certain aspects of the subject matter under discussion and because he will probably never free himself completely from the presentism which he introduces into the past. His picture of the past will be incomplete and tinged with subjectivity, but at the same time contain elements of truth. The historian in this sense is in a similar position as the natural scientist. History like the natural sciences is a continuous dialogue, a sort of dialectical process in which partial formulations of the truth call forth their own negation. But this process of revision suggests that there is an element of objectivity and rational method for the establishment of truth. Now some theorists, like Siegfried Kracower in his recent book, History, The Last Things Before the Last, will admit that objective knowledge and hence progress in historical knowledge is possible in the realm of micro-history, of facts, concrete situations, but that as soon as we leave the realm of the purely factual and deal with larger historical contexts we enter the realm of the speculative. There has been no greater historian than Thucydides, Kracower argues. And on a certain level this is true. We might similarly argue that there neither has been nor can be any progress in psychology. History is a fonn of social psychology. It seeks understanding of other persons. Such understanding requires wisdom and judgment. And in a sense there has been no increase in wisdom since Thucydides. But the historian as social scientist seeks to formulate explanatory theories of historical change and social behavior and these theories undergo revision and acquire increasing sophistication. I do believe that Marx helped us to understand certain aspects of the historical situation which Thucydides only dimly suspected. To be sure our social science, and hence also history, is still in its infancy. To question, however, that histoiical theory is impossible is to question the possibility of social science as such. To be sure all interpretations of the past are subject to revision, and not merely to revision but to enrichment. For the human personality, much more so a whole society, is so rich in nuances and intentions that we can never exhaust it. The past never reveals itself in all its complexity; we see only aspects of it, aspects on which our interest focuses or to which we are perceptive, but aspects which nevertheless, if we remain critical are contained in the past itself. All history is therefore incomplete as the past continues to reveal itself in the future. But this is the predicament not only of history but of all science. While I thus tend to agree with the Marxists, Weber, and the men of the Annales that a science of history, or rather a scientific approach to history, is possible, I am much less certain than H. S. Hughes that a major breakthrough in historical science comparable to that which has taken place in twentieth century physics has already occurred. History and the social sciences generally are still on a very rudimentary level. I suspect that the Annales writers are correct in stressing the relevance of psychology and anthropology for history. We must probe much deeper below the level of conscious behavior to the motivating forces, psychological, perhaps even physical, underlying behavior. A scientific collective psychology must occupy a central role in any scientific conception of society. But such a science apparently does not exist yet even in a

T h e N e w Historiography in Historical Perspective


rudimentary form. The methodological problem of translating psychoanalytical concepts into historical practice are immense. Moreover, it is by no means certain that Freudian psychology presents an adequate theory for the understanding of social behavior. Many of its basic social concepts are as yet speculative ideas which lack solid empirical validation. Freud’s own adventures into psychologicalhistory, whether his Moses and Monotheism or on a different level his study of Woodrow Wilson represent fascinating speculations if not fantasies. Erik Erikson’s works are among the first serious attempts to explore the applicability of psychoanalytical methods to history. Hayden White and Michel Foucault have rightly suggested that history must concern itself with the borderline of the rational and the irrational. There is a certain danger, however, when we regard the irrational itself as a form of knowledge as Foucault does, although the irrational may very well be a source of knowledge. When, like Foucault, we equate insanity with normalcy or, like LCvy-Strauss, civilization with savage society, we are in danger of falling into a bottomless irrationalism. Pop history is meaningless as a science. Civilization is the conscious attempt to reduce the irrational to rational control. Science seeks to reduce the irrational to rational concepts through which alone understanding is possible. Entirely new methods, methods we do not yet conceive of, may be needed to explore rationally the sphere of the irrational. But history has not merely a scholarly but also an existential task. In a period of crisis and transition, it becomes an important instrument of self-understanding and self-orientation. We may be grateful to Marxists, Weberians, and Annales historians for having asked again existential questions regarding the nature and destiny of man, which Enlightenment historians considered to be legitimate and traditional professional historiography regarded as irrelevant to the scholar. But these questions cannot be answered speculatively; they must be approached as Weber, the men of the Annales and many, though not all, Marxist historians have understood, piecemeal in a laborious process which honestly confronts and questions the facts.

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