Ph.D. Octopus

Politics, media, music, capitalism, scholarship, and ephemera since 2010

Crafting History

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by Luce

I think the posts in this blog are enough to justify the historian’s use of the past to look with fresh and more critical eyes at the present, but it is perhaps a question why the historian should waste precious time (which could be spent in archives, crushed under toppled stacks of manuscripts!) thinking so much about the present. Sanity is one answer, but I’ve been spending a really lovely afternoon with Marc Bloch’s The Historian’s Craft, and he has been reminding me of certain things about what I do and why I do it. On why historians shouldn’t forever navel-gaze into the past:

For here, in the present, is immediately perceptible that vibrance of human life which only a great effort of the imagination can restore to the old texts… The very names we use to describe ancient ideas or vanished forms of social organization would be quite meaningless if we had not known living men… But the scholar who has no inclination to observe the men, the things, or the events around him will perhaps deserve the title, as Pirenne put it, of a useful antiquarian. He would be wise to renounce all claims to that of a historian.


Written by Kristen Loveland

November 9, 2010 at 15:57

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