Volume 56-60: Abstracts

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William Gallois

History Goes Walkabout 

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 165-194

Could the methods of history—and not just its objects of study—be decolonized? This essay explores analogous areas of cultural production, such as painting, to determine how historians might begin to produce work that lies outside the Western, Euro-Christian imaginary. It focuses on the case of Australia and the means by which Aboriginal artists have reanimated and recalibrated traditional forms of knowledge, offering new bases for thinking about the history and temporalities of Australia. The work of the painter Tim Johnson is then presented as an example for history in his demonstration of the ways in which indigenous methods and ways of seeing the world can be deployed by Others. The ethical, theoretical, and practical challenges that accompany such work are detailed, alongside a historiographical account of the way in which these discussions mesh with seminal debates in postcolonialism, subaltern studies, and settler colonialism as they relate to historical theory. Drawing on recent work in History and Theory, the article asks what might be the consequences for history were it not to develop a meaningful “global turn,” arguing that a critical moment has been reached in which modes of understanding the world that come from outside the West need to be incorporated into historians’ repertoires for thinking and making.

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Stefan Eich and Adam Tooze

The Allure of Dark Times: Max Weber, Politics, and the Crisis of Historicism

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 195-213

This article argues that realist invocations of Weber rely on an unrealistic reading of Weber’s realism. In order to escape the allure of Weber’s dramatic posture of crisis, we place his seminal lecture on “Politics as a Vocation” (1919) in its historical and philosophical context of a revolutionary conjuncture of dramatic proportions, compounded by a broader crisis of historicism. Weber’s rhetoric, we argue, carries with it not only the emotion of crisis but is also the expression of a deeper intellectual impasse. The fatalistic despair of his position had already been detected by some of his closest contemporaries for whom Weber did not appear as a door-opener to a historically situated theory of political action but as a telling and intriguing impasse. Although the disastrous history of interwar Europe seems to confirm Weber’s bleakest predictions, it would be perverse to elevate contingent failure to the level of retrospective vindication.

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Dimitri Ginev

Bernard Groethuysen’s Way of Coping with the “Problem of Historicism”

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 214-238

This article argues that Groethuysen’s creation of a new historiographical genre—the anonymous history of the formation of worldviews—was a response to the “problem of historicism” conceived of as a task of working out a concept of historicity beyond the relativism–objectivism dilemma. In scrutinizing Groethuysen’s implementation of phenomenology to study how basic historical phenomena have been experienced, the article draws a parallel with Heidegger’s response to historical relativism. In the main argument, Groethuysen’s combination of a new approach to the history of ideas and a historicized philosophical anthropology reveals the possibility of avoiding the depressing dilemma between metahistorical objectivism and historicist relativism by means of a double hermeneutics. In this regard, special attention is paid to Groethuysen’s phenomenological conception of narrative time.

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Suman Seth

The Politics of Despair and the Calling of History

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 239-255

What happens to history as a set of practices and intellectual protocols when the assumed subject of our historical narratives is not a product of the European Enlightenment? Such has been the question motivating much of Dipesh Chakrabarty’s work for almost thirty years. This essay offers a largely chronological account of Chakrabarty’s major works. It begins with his first book, published in 1989, which provided a culturalist account of working-class history in Bengal. It then tracks his movement in the early 1990s toward a position positing radical disjuncture and even incommensurability between the worlds of Indian subalterns and Western moderns, and his subsequent attempts to soften and blur precisely this kind of disjuncture. Meditating on the problems posed by the experiences of subjects who did not live within the time of history led him to answer in the affirmative the question of whether there are experiences of the past that history could not capture. Soon thereafter, however, he drew back from the most extensive articulation of this claim, suggesting that the experiences of the non-Enlightenment subject could function as a positive resource and not merely as the source of a profound and destabilizing critique. I argue here that this solution to the problem of incommensurability is not entirely satisfactory, for it relies implicitly on precisely the kinds of argumentative asymmetries of which his earlier analysis taught us to be wary. Chakrabarty himself, meanwhile, has continued to step further away from the radicalism of the early 1990s; his most recent book may be read as a defense of rationalist history in the face of contemporary threats posed by the rise of a politics of identity in India.

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Berel Lang on Claudio Fogu, Wulf Kansteiner, and Todd Presner, eds., Probing the Ethics of Holocaust Culture

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 256-264

Close analysis of the ostensive disagreement between Saul Friedländer and Hayden White on the necessarily literary character of Holocaust historiography shows instead of conflict two compatible and even mutually supportive emphases in that project: the assumption in modernist and disruptive narratives as elsewhere of a “corpus of facts” together with the role of figurative discourse in conveying relevant features of events that linear chronological or causal narratives alone do not convey.

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Ewa Domańska on Susan Nance, ed., The Historical Animal

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 265-285

This review reflects on animal history as a subfield of the discipline of history and presents its main arguments and future tasks. Its main goal is to identify the new research prospects and potentials proposed by the book edited by Susan Nance, The Historical Animal. These include such topics as the problem of “the animal’s point of view,” animal agency (animals understood as “historical” agents and actors), the problem of identifying traces of animal actions in “anthropocentric” archives and searching for new historical sources (including animals’ testimonies). It also explores methodological difficulties, especially with the idea of the historicization of animals and the possible merger of the humanities and social sciences with the natural and life sciences. The review considers how studying animals forces scholars to rethink to its foundations history as a discipline. It claims that the most progressive proposals are coming from scholars (many of whom are historians) who advocate radical interdisciplinarity. The authors are not only interested in merging history with specific sciences (such as animal psychology, ecology, ethology, evolutionary biology, and zoology), but also question basic assumptions of the discipline: the epistemic authority claimed by historians for building knowledge of the past as well as the human epistemic authority for creating such knowledge. In this context several questions emerge: can we achieve “interspecies competence” (Erica Fudge’s term) for creating a multispecies knowledge of the past? Can research on animals’ perception of change help us to develop nonhistorical approaches to the past? Can we imagine accounts of the past based on multispecies co-authorship?

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Allan Megill and Jaeyoon Park on Jonathan Sperber, Karl Marx: A Nineteenth-Century Life

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 286-304

In this book Jonathan Sperber deploys his extensive knowledge of nineteenth-century European social and political history, and his diligent research into sources that have become readily available only recently, to produce a substantial biography of Karl Marx. We find, however, that Sperber is mistaken in his treatment of Marx’s ideas and of the intellectual contexts within which Marx worked. In fact, we suggest that he is systematically mistaken in this regard. We locate a root source of the error in his reductive approach to theoretical ideas. In section I we focus on the claim, taken for granted in the book, that Marx’s ideas are instantiations of “materialism.” By detailed reference to the record of Marx’s writings, we show that there is no justification for describing Marx as a “materialist” in the usually accepted senses of that term. In section II we review how Soviet and other interpreters of Marx, taking their lead from the later Engels, insisted that “materialism” was fundamental to Marxism. We suggest that Sperber’s presentation of Marx’s thinking as “materialist and atheist” aligns far better with such interpretations than it does with what Marx actually wrote. In sections III and IV we criticize Sperber’s “contextualist” approach to dealing with ideas in history. His approach may seem reminiscent of Quentin Skinner’s, but where Skinner deploys the discursive conventions prevailing in a past time to illuminate theoretical ideas, Sperber reduces theoretical ideas to context. We name Sperber’s approach “theoretical nominalism,” a term that we use to denote the view that theoretical ideas are nothing but interventions into particular situations. We end by suggesting that greater attentiveness to philosophy and theory would have enriched Sperber’s efforts in this book.

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David Carr on Henning Trüper, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Sanjay Subrahmanyam, eds., Historical Teleologies in the Modern World

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 305-315

The sixteen essays in this volume treat a broad array of topics related to the idea of teleology in history. The majority are not concerned with evaluating or even analyzing arguments for or against the teleological view of history. Their purpose is more to display the wide variety of teleological views. In their introduction, the editors speak of the Enlightenment origins of the teleological view of history, but the volume “seeks to explore that enlightened project . . . across its fragmentation and multiplication in the nineteenth century” (13). In fact, they believe that “the very idea that a single, however powerful, conception of time could function as the unifying principle of all modern historicity is cast in doubt. Our volume intends to expand on this doubt” (14). Thus, in addition to discussions of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Darwin, and so on, we learn about the Canudos revolt in Brazil, the Taiping rebellion in China, missionary writings in colonial India, John Brown, Scholem on Zionism, and much more. But this often fascinating profusion of microhistorical research suffers from considerable conceptual confusion. Terms like teleology, eschatology, providence, and messianism are not adequately distinguished. In my essay I point out that the teleological view of history does not date from the Enlightenment but is part of the religious tradition of the West. Many nineteenth- and twentieth-century versions discussed here simply continue or adapt these religious views. The puzzling question is why those modern thinkers who question or reject the idea of divine providence continue to think in teleological terms about history. This question, which could have served as an organizing principle for these essays, is for the most part not even addressed.

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Jeffrey Andrew Barash on Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History

History and Theory 56, no. 2 (June 2017), 316-328

This essay examines the concept and the discourse of collective memory in view of interpreting the novel function with which it has been endowed in recent decades and the problematic character of its interpretation. To this end, it focuses on the recent book by Manuel Cruz, On the Difficulty of Living Together: Memory, Politics, and History, which examines the contemporary functions that collective memory has assumed in recent decades and takes into account interpretations of it elaborated in a number of seminal works that have set the framework for contemporary ways of understanding it. My investigation engages critical analysis of the psychological approach to collective memory that Cruz adopts, which, in interpreting recent public preoccupation with collective memory as an expression of trauma occasioned by the Holocaust and other horrific twentieth-century events, assumes that analogous psychic mechanisms govern forms of remembrance in the public sphere and memory in personal and small-group interaction. By taking into account alternate possibilities of interpretation, suggested above all by the public function of the mass media, I seek to widen the scope of enquiry to scrutinize in a broader perspective the contemporary role of collective memory and its political significance in the public realm.

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Franz L. Fillafer 

A World Connecting? From the Unity of History to Global History

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 3-37

Global history looms large in current historiography, yet its heuristic design and political functions remain ill-reflected. My paper seeks to uncover the historical origins of the assumption that the “world” has one common history and that it is feasible and desirable to write it. I analyze the epistemic infrastructure underlying this assumption and argue that global history as practiced today is predicated on a specific practice of world-making that provides its basic template: Global history both grew out of and intellectually sustains the conception of an increasingly connected world. The type of connectedness thereby implied and reinscribed was established by what I call the “world-historical process," a cognitive framework that co-emerged with the early modern and modern European conquest of the world through expansion, discovery, commerce, and culture. The article traces how this process-template emerged out of the crisis of universal history that could no longer integrate and reconcile the multiple pasts of the world. I discuss the Enlightenment version of the interconnected planetary past and analyze its conceptual refurbishment by nineteenth-century historicism. I go on to flesh out what conceptual legacy this historicist mode of inquiry bequeathed to current global history: I show that it remains structured around the growing connectedness of previously distinct parts of the planet whose pasts are transformed into relevant world history by the very process that makes them increasingly interrelated. Global history may be too much a product of the process of globalization it studies to develop epistemologically and politically tenable alternatives to “connectivity."

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Ritwik Ranjan

Postcoloniality and the Two Sites of Historicity

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 38-53

This essay examines the two sites of historicity, namely history-writing and historical agency, and their interrelationship. I borrow the idea of “sites of historicity” from historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot’s Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995). For the purpose of analyzing how the relationship between the two sites changes with time and context, using Trouillot’s theoretical lens, I examine the philosophies of history of Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. By citing instances from these two philosophers, I claim that with the rise of nineteenth-century colonialism, the two sites of historicity became discursively related in a specific way, whereby historical agency came to be predicated on history-writing. Hence, in contrast to Kant’s work, in Hegel’s philosophy of history the relationship between the two sites of historicity acquired a decidedly colonialist form. As a result of this predication of historical agency on history-writing, the alleged lack of historiography of certain cultures began to be considered as a token of their lack of political ability. The essay ends with the suggestion that the postcolonial thinkers and commentators who deal with historiography should challenge the foregoing predication, as it continues to inform contemporary thought concerning historiography.

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Neilesh Bose

India in a  World: Dilemmas of Sovereignty

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 54-60

Azfar Moin’s The Millennial Sovereign: Sacred Kingship and Sainthood in Islam prompts a consideration not only of the histories of Islam and early modern connected histories of Central and South Asia, but also of current debates about local and global history-writing. Moin’s work intersects with a strand of comparative world history—following Victor Lieberman’s Strange Parallels—but also engages strands of historical anthropology, bringing to light a range of compelling stakes for global historians, historians of South Asia, and scholars of nationalism alike. Though Moin’s work pushes the boundaries of connected histories centered on South Asia, his focus on a trans-regional millennial science avoids questions of the local within new global histories.

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Hussein Fancy

Of Sovereigns, Sacred Kings, and Polemics

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 61-70

In its emphasis on ritual and sacred kingship, Azfar Moin’s The Millennial Sovereign bears the imprint of anthropological theory, but Moin addresses this inheritance only obliquely. This essay seeks to draw out that tradition and to place theories of sovereignty and sacred kingship in their intellectual and historical context. Ultimately, it questions the value of these theories to the study of political authority.


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Anne M. Blackburn

Buddhist Technologies of Statecraft and Millennial Moments

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 71-79

There are striking family resemblances between models and modes of kingship in the Safavid and Mughal worlds discussed by Azfar Moin and those that characterized Buddhist kingship in the premodern Indian Ocean arena, which encompassed polities including Poḷonnāruva, Dambadeṇiya, Koṭṭē, Bagan, Sukhothai, and Chiang Mai. In courtly contexts, Buddhists—operating at the intersection of intellectual traditions in Pali and Sanskrit languages—depended upon protective technologies including astrology and interpreted threats and prospects according to millennial science. Working comparatively, across the premodern Indian Ocean and Indo-Persian worlds, can help historians of Buddhism and Islam to understand more clearly the intellectual histories and repertoires of royal practice according to which kings and strongmen within each sphere sought to gain and retain the throne.


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David Gilmartin

Imperial Sovereignty in Mughal and British Forms

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 80-88

Azfar Moin’s recent work on millennial sovereignty in Mughal India prompts a consideration of the evolution of sovereignty in modern South Asia more broadly. Although the sovereign principles of the Mughals differed from those of the British Indian empire, which ultimately succeeded it, these empires shared important similarities in their linking of sovereign authority to visions of a cosmos in immanent interaction with human affairs. This article explores these similarities and differences and speculatively considers their implications for both similarities and differences in Mughal and British principles of statecraft. These similarities and differences provide an important backdrop for thinking about the meanings attached to popular sovereignty in modern India as well.

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A. Azfar Moin

Millennial Sovereignty, Total Religion, and Total Politics

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 89-97

Discussions of kingship and sovereignty in early modern India have struggled to fully comprehend and assess the work and life of Akbar (r. 1556–1605), the celebrated and most famous ruler of the Mughal Empire. The Mughal emperor’s incomparable energy and imagination had lit up, like never before in the history of Islam, the vast networks and institutions of knowledge and practice that could be deployed in the service of sacred kingship. Rather than demonstrate a local history of Indic kingship, Akbar’s intersections with networks and institutions show a history that stretched back centuries and linked South Asia to post-Mongol Iran and Central Asia, and were the crucibles in which a “millennial science” was cultivated. The implications for studying “millennial science” extend beyond the early modern world and into a consideration of sovereignty in modern South Asia.

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Dominick LaCapra on Ivan Jablonka, L’histoire est une littérature contemporaine: Manifeste pour les sciences sociales

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 98-113

Ivan Jablonka seeks something other than a mere combination of history, social science, and literature. He would like history, itself understood as a social science, to be a literature of the real world. He is also interested in literature informed not only by the results but, more important, by the forms of reasoning and inquiry of history and related social sciences (notably anthropology and sociology). Jablonka’s own positioning within the Annales seems obvious, notably in his stress on cognition, problem-oriented research, and the status of history as a social science. But the attention and research devoted in the work of scholars in and around the Annales to the relations among history, literature, and fiction have not been pronounced, and in this context Jablonka inflects the understanding of history in relatively underdeveloped directions. Despite possible disagreements one may have over specific issues, Jablonka’s thought-provoking book raises very important questions, opens many significant avenues of inquiry, and seeks a desirable interaction between historical and literary approaches.


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David D. Roberts on Simon Susen, The “Postmodern Turn” in the Social Sciences

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 114-126

Recognizing that the vogue of postmodernism has passed, Simon Susen seeks to assess whatever enduring impact it may have had on the social sciences, including historiography. Indeed, the postmodern turn, as he sees it, seems to have had particular implications for our understanding of the human relationship with history. After five exegetical chapters, in which he seems mostly sympathetic to postmodernism, Susen turns to often biting criticism in a subsequent chapter. He charges, most basically, that postmodernists miss the self-critical side of modernity and tend to overreact against aspects of modernism. That overreaction is evident especially in the postmodern preoccupation with textuality and discourse, which transforms sociology into cultural studies and historiography into a form of literature. But as Susen sees it, a comparable overreaction has been at work in the postmodern emphasis on new, “little” politics, concerned with identity and difference, at the expense of more traditional large-scale politics and attendant forms of radicalism. His assessment reflects the “emancipatory” political agenda he assigns to the social sciences. Partly because that agenda inevitably affects what he finds to embrace and what to criticize, aspects of his discussion prove one-sided. And he does not follow through on his suggestions that postmodernist insights entail a sort of inflation of history or historicity. Partly as a result, his treatment of “reason,” universal rights, and reality (including historiographical realism) betrays an inadequate grasp of the postmodern challenge—and opportunity. In the last analysis, Susen’s understanding of the historical sources of postmodernism is simply too limited, but he usefully makes it clear that we have not put the postmodernist challenge behind us.

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Joshua A. Fogel on Vera Schwarcz, Colors of Veracity: A Quest for Truth in China, and Beyond

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 127-137

Vera Schwarcz offers a penetrating examination of the concept and meaning of “truth” in China (antiquity to contemporary) and elsewhere (primarily in the Jewish tradition, from the Hebrew Bible to contemporary thinkers). Highly critical of the sharp turn toward cultural relativism which abandons the search for truth in the name of everyone having his or her own situated truths, she examines in particular how scholars, philosophers, and writers living in dark times have sought to cut through the enforced amnesia of oppressive regimes, especially that of post-1949 China. This broad-ranging search brings numerous great minds into a kind of trans-temporal, transcultural conversation, voices rarely, if ever, discussed between the covers of the same book.

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Adam Dodd on Richard Grusin, ed., The Nonhuman Turn

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 138-145

This collection of nine essays brings together a variety of responses to the question of the “nonhuman turn” within the humanities and the social sciences, understood broadly as a developing concern with overcoming anthropocentrism in its diverse manifestations. Emerging from The Nonhuman Turn conference held at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012, which was hosted by the Center for 21st Century Studies, it represents the first attempt to account for and consolidate the many intellectual approaches and developments that may now be regarded as constituting the nonhuman turn. The nonhuman turn is contextualized as both “yet another” turn but also a necessary one, and as something critically distinct from “the posthuman turn”—whereas the posthuman turn is concerned with what comes after the human (ways of being, ways of thinking), the nonhuman turn insists (according to editor Richard Grusin) that “we have never been human.” My reading of this volume suggests that this claim is not borne out across the chapters it contains, and that the notion that we have never been human, though a noble gesture to Bruno Latour’s widely lauded claim that “we have never been modern,” does not enable a new philosophy, nor does it advance the two primary streams of philosophical thought featured here: object-oriented ontology (OOO) and new materialism.

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Ines G. Županov on Katrina B. Olds, Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain

History and Theory 56, no. 1 (March 2017), 146-159

Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain chronicles and unravels historiographical strands made of the complicated lives and afterlives of a set of manuscripts and printed books in defense of the Spanish church and its saints and martyrs against the Roman post-Tridentine reform of Christian sacred history. Olds studies one particular Jesuit historian, Jerónimo Román de la Higuera (1538–1611) and his notorious “falsos cronicones,” in which he rewrote and invented historical archives in order to prove the antiquity of Spanish Christianity. Olds’s enticing narrative and thorough research prove the point that forgery is also a “mode of historical writing,” and the only reproach one might level at this fine book is the narrow focus on Spain when it comes to discussing the reception of the Chronicles. Reading this book, however, inspires and raises larger questions, including the use of forgeries for patriotic (national) histories and the ethics of historical scholarship. By looking into recent statements by Sheldon Pollock, a philologist and intellectual historian of South Asia, and by Hayden White in his recent The Practical Past, this article argues that in spite of their different methodologies, they both converge in defining the task of a historian as doing something other than supporting national, patriotic, technocratic, and “market-oriented” agendas. 

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