In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

14 Historically Speaking · May/June 2005 rians owe their existence." This is tantamount to arguing that medieval historians lack the autonomy, agency, and full liberty of modernity and would strike any medievalist as nonsensical , especially since it runs counter to Fasolt's own insistence on contextualization. Our context, political and professional, is precisely that ofour contemporary practitioners of history. Moreover, in the light of this wholesale rejection of the possibility of "folding medieval history into plain history" (whatever the latter term might indicate) it must seem churlish to point out that Fasolt has given us a brilliant explanation of Bartolus's thought. In Fasolt's opinion, we cannot negotiate the gap between Bartolus and Conring except by "pure guessing" at the possible intervening connection, for Conring's mode of argumentation depended on a break from the past so novel and thoroughgoing that the boundary dividing the Middle Ages from modernity refuses to yield to the most well-intentioned efforts at reconciliation. History, we are told, is ill equipped to grasp this change, although why this should be so is never explained. In consequence, all attempts to bridge the gap between the Middle Ages and modernity are bound to fail, and medievalists are condemned , he claims, to "oscillate between irreverent incomprehension and reverent idealization —or lose their meaning" (228). I suspect that were Fasolt not so intent on tracing the "great divide" between the Middle Ages and modernity and not so committed to the question oforigins, this dilemma could be avoided. A fetishizing of "origins"—of which medievalists are most routinely accused—creates that unbridgeable abyss between the conceptual worlds ofthe Middle Ages and modernity, and in the end simply reenacts the analytic gesture by which modernity originally defined itself against the Middle Ages. This is not a small point, since it has huge historiographical consequences for medieval studies, for which I would like Fasolt to take responsibility. In the light of Fasolt's disinclination to consider poststructuralist/postmodern critiques of history, there is, I believe, a serious failure to acknowledge the degree to which those critiques address precisely the issues with which he is so centrally concerned. For he shares with poststructuralists the same rejection ofhistory's claims to objectivity, the same belief in the inability to stabilize meaning or grasp authentic authorial intentions, the same suspicion of claims to authority on the part of states, and the same interrogation of the roots of the modern self. In my view, Fasolt's neglect of these affinities limits the force of his argument. Gabrielle M. Spiegel is Dean of Humanities at the University of California, Los Angeles. She is the author ofThe Past as Text: The Theory and Practice of Historiography (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997). Response to Allan Megill and Gabrielle Spiegel Constantin Fasolt lian Megill believes that in The A Limits ofHistory I sought to criticize "commonplace truisms of the historical profession," but did not do so directly, because attacking them directly might well have left me "with no audience of historians (and no other audience either). In fact," he says, my book "reads like an attempt to flatter the pride of historians while cunningly criticizing them." The reason why I made that attempt, he speculates, is that "one ofthe best ways to transform readers is to give them space to discover for themselves what one might otherwise have simply told them. A lesson discovered is usually more effective than a lesson merely heard, especially when it goes against what one would prefer to hear." He got the point exactly. Gabrielle Spiegel regards "the need to take personal responsibility for the activity we call history" as "the principal finding of the book." In her view, "a primary thesis of The Limits ofHistory is that our current practice is haunted by moral compromises made centuries ago and long since forgotten." Those moral compromises have led historians to exaggerate what history can do, "and it is precisely this idealized vision of history and its operation that Fasolt wishes to limit, thus relieving us of our bondage to time, though not of our responsibility for history." Her characterization is different from Megill's. But it goes equally to the core of the...


Additional Information

Print ISSN
pp. 14-17
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
Back To Top

This website uses cookies to ensure you get the best experience on our website. Without cookies your experience may not be seamless.