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32 Historically Speaking November/December 2005 What Lies About, There and Then: phenomenologies for hlstory Adrian Jones Historiography seldom assesses hows and whys of describing. Trained historians know that most readers like histories that are evocative, personal, and particular . Historians' honest selves—in pajamas and reading for pleasure—tend to value the same. But the academic training ofprofessional historians offers little guidance on means and methods of evocation and description. We know that history exists to retrieve, situate , and anchor. It makes a past belong to us. The anchoring effect can be achieved in a number ofways: in lines ofargument and evidence , for one; in descriptions and docudramas , for another. The professional training of historians favors argument-and-evidence kinds of analysis over evocative kinds. The unsurprising result is that history writing suffers from excesses of earnestness, and ordinary readers often prefer to find themselves in a novel. I think that these unfortunate results arose in part from professional historians' neglect of participant-perspective social sciences. These continental social sciences, old and new, can help frame histories that are vivid and real and that resonate with readers. E. H. Carr is partly to blame. His What Is History? (1961), the best and most read English-language reflection on history, was an anachronism. According to Carr, history dealt in facts. These were then structured to cohere in retrospect as arguments with evidence. Carr's view was odd even in 1961. His contemporary, R.G. Collingwood, offered an alternative view ofhistory that Carr dismissed as "total skepticism." Collingwood dwelled on semblance in situ, participant perspectives. History to him was the recovered coherence of past acting and thinking. Carr claimed to honor all the social sciences, but he really only valued the objectifying ones enabling "the right standard of significance" of "something still incomplete and in the process of becoming ." Carr ignored Dilthey's and Weber's social sciences of and from subjectivities, and overlooked existentiell concepts of Being-inthe -World (in-der-Welt-sein) of contemporaries (like Husserl and Heidegger). Carr preferred to show what history is instead. History had to be something: a factual ordering offacts, a thing done by historians, an outcome of research. Interpretation (the outcome, not the verb) and the interpreter seemed more important to him than any era, individual, or theme. As Carr saw it, history was always written in another present; it could not, and should not, dote on pasts or persons in their own abodes, in their own minds, at any set moment. Histories instead ascribed forces and processes. Observer-driven, a patterned reportage through time, history according to Carr should look beyond the surfaces of events to what lay behind and ahead. Carr favored lines of argument over narrative . Better to be comprehensive than to be A 1670 print of Livy. The James Marshall and MarieLouise Osborn Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. vivid. Carr favored representing the past in structures and processes not of that past's making: origins of outcomes (ahead), outcomes of structures (behind). Events, the givens, and ways things were once perceived did not have to be considered in their own terms and settings. They were there to be translated. History to Carr was an interpretation historians made from a past incomprehensible to itself. The turgid volumes of his History ofSoviet Russia (1950-78) show the blight of his method. Stories he told when his passions were aroused—The Romantic Exiles (1948)—betray lost opportunities for bringing history to life. For Carr, the whole point ofhistory was to retrieve "what lies behind the act" of a group, event or subject in history. To Nietzsche's dismay , such forensic models of positivist history prevailed in academic history since Ranke. Carr's key contribution, however, was his beliefthat science per se could not show what lies behind. These patterns arose—so Carr believed, following Croce—from choices made by the historians doing the interpreting. Carr chided the old positivists, like J.B. Bury, who had thought in the hopeful times before 1914 that history might be science. Yet Canstill shared their structural predilections. Bury could have written Carr's chapter headings in 1961; all pertain to traditional objectifying social...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1944-6438
Print ISSN
1941-4188
Pages
pp. 32-34
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-04
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Ceased Publication
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