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  • Preface

There is no tidy means of dividing the essays that follow as, quite properly, they overlap in many ways. We decided, for example, against a special section on “non-Western” regions (an inappropriate designation in any case), because in fact essays on Africa and India relate even more clearly to other subjects—but the issue of appropriate regional decisions, and the need to reconsider national focus and introduce more active comparison and transregional social forces runs through the collection.

  • → A first set of essays introduces the general subject of social history today, from both an American and European perspectives.

  • → Part II revisits the cultural turn, and its impact on social history as well as future prospects now that the turn may be turning, but of course the subject informs many other contributions as well. Social history is regaining attention now that the cultural turn plays out, but the cultural-social division was never hard and fast which means that opportunities the turn provided can be maintained as well.

  • → Part III engages central issues not only of geography, but also narrative, causation, social structure, and agency. The comments on social structure, once a sociohistorical staple, gain urgency in addressing the cultural turn and its aftermath.

  • → The essays in Part IV deal with social history and some key conventional subjects. They include two comments on the French revolution that take up the rise/fall/revival of social history on a seminal topic in European history, while also focusing some attention on the complex relationship of social and political history.

  • → Materials in Part V explore relatively new topics and social history’s role in defining and anchoring the continued expansion of our understanding of the past, toward which the field has already contributed so much. Comments on the senses, on death, and on Africa suggest the range of innovations social history still involves. An essay by a new scholar talks about novelty in another sense. In all this, as in the essays in Part III, the interplay between topical explorations and synthesis or integration must be engaged.

The volume ends with a proposal for a followup conference, to be held in fall, 2004, on several of the topics these essays collectively suggest as central to the ongoing discussion of social history’s prospects, beyond its current state and recent past.


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