Saturday, May 07, 2005

Not Just One D______ Thing After Another

Timothy Burke, at Cliopatra, lists the "rationales" historians give for doing history:

" The Hooks of History:

Without going the full Hayden White route and essentially reducing historical writing to the sum of its tropes, I have been thinking more simplistically about the basic rhetorical "hooks" that are common in contemporary historical writing, both scholarly and non-scholarly writing. I've come up with a list of ten: I'm curious to see if there are other identifiable strategies that ought to be on the list. These are the basic strategies that histories use to justify their own existence, to explain their importance to a reader.

Here's my ten:
1. Something that you didn’t think has a history does have one (example: Foucault)

2. The history that you think you know is wrong (revisionism)

3. Your life in some important way is determined by the history I am writing about

4. Your life in some important way is NOT determined by the history I am writing about, contrary to your assumption: the past is a foreign country

5. Past is prologue; history as a guide to future action; history as a data set for predictive social science

6. Past is NOT prologue: history as clarifying how a present crisis is unique to the present; history as confounding social science

7. Illumination of the self: we can identify with individuals or whole cultures in the past and in that identification discover what is universal or expansive in ourselves

8. Illumination of the other: we can find in the past radically different or alien individuals, modes of life, etc., that help understand the plasticity and diversity of human experience

9. History as heritage: some particular past provides you a sense of identity and meaning either by serving as exemplar or as the primal source of important ritual and tradition; history is memory-work

10. History as narrative: history is just about telling good, compelling stories that are entertaining or provocative; stories for their own sake.
(Timothy Burke, Cliopatra).


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