Posted by: aboutalbion | August 16, 2012

Another view of history

I’m adding this professional opinion to my collection of descriptions of what history is.  It comes from an article by Professor Jonathan Steinberg of the University of Pennsylvania.

“Human knowledge forms only a part of … history …  Historians work within rules and procedures that govern the subjectivity of such judgements.  As University of Chicago professor Dipesh Chakrabarty writes, history is ‘a disciplined and institutionally regulated form of collective memory’. Each of us in the profession observes these regulated forms: assertions must be supported by evidence; we try to give precise dates and places for the events we describe.

The exchange of ideas among practitioners produces a consensus on ‘what actually happened’ about an aspect of the past for a particular society at a particular time in its past.  This changes when new people ask new questions in a new age.  There is, therefore, no ‘truth of the matter’ about historical narrative or analysis, although certain facts and dates can be considered true.  It is not random but, as Chakrabarty says, ‘disciplined and institutional’.”

[Steinberg, Jonathan (2012) ‘Cult of Personalities’ in Times Higher Education. 19 July.]

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