History in Crisis? Recent Directions in Historiography

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9780139032059: History in Crisis? Recent Directions in Historiography

This book explores historical study in the face of current trends, including postcolonialism, postmodernism, and deconstruction, among others.KEY TOPICS: Organized around a central thesis that historical scholarship and consciousness are not in crisis, the book begins with a general overview of standard intellectual history, including the major schools, issues, and questions ranging from science to morality, philosophy to anthropology. It provides a comprehensive survey of historical writing and introduces the assumptions and orientation influencing the writing of history as well as the major figures and schools. It makes history accessible through relevant current issues such as recent controversies over museum exhibits and Ònational standardsÓ for history which are forcing a reconsideration of the focus and political nature of historical study. An important reference book for every reader interested in the study of history as well as those interested in the influence of recent political trends.

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I chose the title of this book while skimming my tattered copy of Fritz Stern's Varieties of History: From Voltaire to the Present. In the "Note to the Second Edition," Stern wrote "Is history in crisis again? The answer seems to be yes, and the crisis comes from within and without the historical discipline." It was unclear to me how historians could ever be freed from the crisis that Stern proclaimed. Stern's book, a reader of famous historians, differs radically from my efforts to present a variety of approaches without attempting to pinpoint a canon of works by famous historians. Instead of proclaiming masters who are then mastered, I sought to provide a toolbox or workshop so that readers could jump into current historical conversations. My goal was to accentuate the positive aspects of the varieties of history and thus the title History in Crisis? ends with a rhetorical question mark. I consciously rejected the critical tradition that grandly proclaims "crisis" so that the critic could explain the world.

This edition caused considerable contemplation about whether I should remain steadfast in my optimistic assessment. One of the most controversial positions in the first edition was my strong support for postcolonialism. Postcolonialists would tell you that I correctly recognized the merits of their pursuit of history, and critics of postcolonialism would argue that I was duped. Postcolonialism is now firmly seated in the academy, but the role of postcolonialism will remain undefined until more postcolonial histories become available.

The current historical conversation may not be as vibrant as the heated conversations over postmodernism and postcolonialism that took place in the late 1990s, but I do not believe that history has returned to a state of crisis. Crisis can be avoided as new perspectives are incorporated into the current historical conversation. Students are encouraged to read this brief overview of recent historical conversations and then to participate in the currently expanding historical conversation. Let the conversation continue!

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Norman J. Wilson
Published by Prentice Hall (1998)
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