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Journal Article

Revising the Past/Revisiting the Present: How Change Happens in Historiography

Gabrielle M. Spiegel
History and Theory
Vol. 46, No. 4, Theme Issue 46: Revision in History (Dec., 2007), pp. 1-19
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4502281
Page Count: 19
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Revising the Past/Revisiting the Present: How Change Happens in Historiography
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Abstract

This article investigates the various forces that may help to explain the ongoing historiographical phenomenon of revision. It takes as its point of departure Michel de Certeau's understanding of the writing of history as a process consisting of an unstable and constantly changing triangulated relationship among a place (a recruitment, a milieu, a profession), analytical procedures (a discipline), and the construction of a text (or discourse). For de Certeau, revision is the formal prerequisite for writing history because the very distance between past and present requires continuous innovation simply to produce the objects of historical knowledge, which have no existence apart from the historian's identification of them. The specific nature of revision at a given moment is determined by the specificities of the process as a whole, that is, by the characteristics of place, procedure, and text and their contemporary relational configuration. Taking the rise of "linguistic-turn" historiography as exemplary of the process of historical revision in its broadest possible meaning, the article seeks to discover the possible "causes" for that turn. It begins with an analysis of the psychological roots of poststructuralism as a response to the Holocaust and its aftermath, and then proceeds to explore the possible economic and social transformations in the postwar world that might account for its reception, both in Europe but also, more counterintuitively, in the United States, where postmodernism proved to have an especially strong appeal. Added to this mix are the new patterns of social recruitment into the historical profession in the "sixties." The essay suggests that, to the extent that revision is understood as the result of the combined effect of psychological, social, and professional determinations, it is unlikely that there will ever be genuine consensus about the sources of revision in history, since all historians bring to their work differing congeries of psychological preoccupations, social positions, and professional commitments.

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