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Sunday, 22 September 2013

Radio Silence: An Apology

Dear Reader/s.  Sorry for the absence of anything much of intellectual substance for a while.  Truth to tell, I have about half a dozen unfinished blog-posts but haven't been able to get the time to round them off.  Or find the energy.  A bit of general malaise about the state of politics (only one thing more depressing than this government and that is the gutless uselessness of the Labour Party combined with the tired old clichés of the Old Left).  Also a bit of malaise about history.  OK - you all know my malaise with the politics of British academic history, but this goes deeper.  It's been a while since I read any history that really made me sit up and think.  I posted a link a couple of months back, to a perfectly decent account of perfectly decent sessions at a Leeds IMC, in which I said they made me wonder why I did what I did.  I said this because I couldn't see the big questions in any of them.  I still can't - or why any of this matters.  The whole discipline seems to me to be sleep-walking.  It knows that we cannot write Rankean history, 'wie es eigentlich gewesen', but I maintain that that knowledge makes absolutely no difference to the way in which it is written or assessed - which still seems to me to be on the basis of a best-fit to an impossible ideal (i.e. accurate redescription of the past).  We have no measuring tool to allow us to judge the closeness or otherwise of that fit, or to evaluate the different explanations given for the past, other than non-contradiction of data.  Thus it would seem that all that the so-called linguistic turn has done for us (other than yielding a series of intellectually piss-poor attempts to proclaim a sort of historical nihilism) is to shift the emphasis from an obsession with being right to an obsession with not being wrong.  This seems like poor progress to me.  The challenge lies in drawing the meaning out the act of doing history.  But that's for another time.  Anyway, for now, suffice it to say that I have a couple of conferences on the horizon, so I will post the texts of my contributions to those when they're done.  Bear with me.


  1. I shouldn't worry - just because you've been taught by someone thoroughly disenchanted with the state of history in the UK! In any case, just as Derrida once said that a critique of reason could only be done from within reason, that it was impossible to step outside that framework, so a critique of empiricist history can only be done ultimately from an empirical/empiricist basis. Getting your argument to conform to the data is a duty, not a virtue, and as an undergraduate you have to get that right: it would be a poor degree that paid no attention to that. The issue is what the point of all that might be. No one really addresses that in history degrees except by some wishy-washy appeal to the very bad/incoherent work of Keith Jenkins or Alun Munslow - it's all supposed to be self-evident,so that the equally not-very-good book by Richard Evans is often wheeled on as some sort of knight in shining armour to save the day. Gah. What I'm saying is that you needn't worry too much about all this at u/g level. Or indeed at any level. Not just because it all gets me, personally, down.

  2. Is it worth considering that the reason why few people really address the point of studying history is because the answer will be different for every individual. It would therefore be hard to say that this is purpose of history across the board and therefore what the point is. Is this your historical crisis point? Just remember that while you might be disenchanted with the state of history in the UK you yourself have had a great impact on the way that I view history itself and you have inspired other students and myself to see history in another way.

    And thank you for the reassurance!


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