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Post Modernism


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#1 Sumir Sharma

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Posted 22 December 2004 - 10:17 AM

I seek the advice of the members of history on the best books on Post Modernism in the field of history.

Further, Would any one like to explain this concept in the field of history as studied under subject/topic head "Philosophy of History"

#2 Guest_Tim Carroll_*

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Posted 22 December 2004 - 10:37 AM

I seek the advice of the members of history on the best books on Post Modernism in the field of history.

Further, Would any one like to explain this concept in the field of history as studied under subject/topic head "Philosophy of History"

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Sumir:

Great topic, but no quick or easy way to respond at 1:30 a.m. Hermeneutics is a great word to describe the interpretation of interpretations. Fundamentally, it involves an embrace of uncertainty as being the only real certainty. I will return to this when I'm less sleepy. But this is a very relevant topic on this forum. I repeatedly assert on the JFK stuff, that he was the first postmodern president. His change from Eisenhower's very certain nuclear policy of Mutual Assured Destruction (M.A.D.) to Flexible Response, thereby untying his hands from a strategy of Massive Retaliation to the less certain Gradual Escalation, was postmodern.

Tim

#3 Richard Jones-Nerzic

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Posted 23 December 2004 - 02:36 PM

Keith Jenkins has done much popularise PM in history circles in the UK. His Re-Thinking History must be nearly 15 years old now. He published this reader
Posted Image
a few years ago. Much of it is actually quite readable.

#4 John Simkin

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Posted 23 December 2004 - 03:03 PM

Keith Jenkins has done much popularise PM in history circles in the UK. His Re-Thinking History must be nearly 15 years old now. He published this reader
Posted Image
a few years ago. Much of it is actually quite readable.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>


Does not sound like the Keith Jenkins I know.

#5 Doug Belshaw

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Posted 22 February 2005 - 09:13 PM

He published this reader
Posted Image
a few years ago. Much of it is actually quite readable.

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Had to read this for my MA - to my mind there's a couple of good chapters (towards the end, I seem to remember).

:rolleyes: Doug

#6 Chris McKie

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Posted 27 February 2005 - 03:58 PM

Another very accessible reader has been written by Richard J. Evans entitled 'In Defence of History'. In the book, Evans offers his defence of history as a discipline from the attacks of post-modernists. It is now in its second edition (below).

Posted Image

#7 John Simkin

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Posted 05 March 2005 - 01:35 PM

I have been having a debate with a character called Cassander (blue) and Ed Podesta (red) on the TES History Forum. I thought it might be worth posting on this thread (my comments are in purple). Please join in the debate:

Ideology versus paradigm. This is one of the arguments which has been kicked around by historians for the last few years, mostly because of the absurd popularity of Keith Jenkins strain of post-modernist (and call me a snob, but I'll also say "very badly written") historiography. Counter this with Richard Evans defence of history ("In Defence of History") and you have the makings of what looks likely to be a long-running historiographical debate.

Jenkins' position is that all history is ideological, importance is created only by the reader and you shouldn't trust anyone except him. I think we can quickly dismiss this position as relatively worthless and ignore it.

There is, however, one important point that needs addressing, which is that it is hard to escape from bias, and no historian is going to be truly neutral. The approach to explaining this that I prefer is to pose ideology against paradigms. An ideology is a set of parameters against which history is measured, criteria which must be fulfilled in order to explain the past. A paradigm, meanwhile, is a world view in which a historian is working. It's an understanding of the world without any necessary moral parameters.

So, for example, Marxist history is ideologically based. The key idea is not politically Marxist, but that all history is ultimately a record of materialist struggle and that groups within society - most notably classes - enter into conflict over material resources. Generally speaking Marxist historians write with a conscious belief in this, and use their work to show how materialist forces shaped history. And, it must be said, some very good work has been produced out of this way of thought; "Captain Swing" by Hobsbawn and Rude immediately springs to mind as how fresh life can be breathed into a subject by a materialist approach.

Paradigms on the other hand are somewhat harder to pin down, but one might consider "liberal democracy" to be one in which most historians are working. For instance, for nearly 150 years after its creation, the Treaty of Vienna was seen by historians as a great evil. Why? It was a creation (mostly) of despotic rulers, designed to ride rough-shod over the self-determination of the people of Europe. People living in liberal democracies generally aren't sympathetic to this kind of thing, and so the Treaty of Vienna was roundly condemned until the mid-twentieth century when, after two world wars, the idea of pragmatic international policies attracted rather more sympathy. There was no strict ideology running behind these feelings, however, no rules dictating how historians should think like this. Their work, rather, was influenced by the biases of the society in which they existed.

That's one explanation of the differences between paradigm and ideology; the former is a product of society, the latter a product of intellectual thought. It is, as a result, very hard to avoid the former...

For those who are truly gluttons for punishment, and going back to the subject of post-modernism, on April the 26th there is a public discussion in Senate House in London between Hayden White and Keith Jenkins, two post-modernist historiographers who are, shall we say, famous for being out of touch with reality.
(Cassander)

Cassander, I've read Jenkins and agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of his style and his (remaining) substance.

Thanks very much for your explanation of paradigm. Does that mean that you think that there's a kind of hierarchy in terms of the background radiation that affects historical thought, in the sense of societal paradigm as a base and intellectual ideology as a superstructure? Or are the two inter-reactive?

Why is the left so keen on talking about ideology rather than paradigm? Couldn't it be argued that a paradigm is just a non-intellectual ideology?!

Sorry for all the questions, but this is fascinating stuff.
(Ed Podesta)

I think the left like ideology because it is simple; good historians use it as a straightforward way of explaining how ideas interact. It does, however, have perjorative connotations, so is a good way for bad historians to attack people.

Paradigms, however, are still only beginning to filter into general historical conciousness from the history of science (which, in turn, had borrowed the idea from the philosophy of science). It's also very hard to pin down with any exactitude, as paradigms largely revolve around unspoken assumptions. There's actually some really good work being produced by Joanna Bourke about the paradigms of conflict, which make for a fascinating challenge on common perceptions of what wars are like.

You're definately right about there being a hierarchy, and there are plenty more biases to talk about. Another stage on the hierarchy is the cultural narrative, a set of transient cultural assumptions used by people to talk about the world around them. Cultural narratives are important as they allow information to be communicated quickly to people inside a culture. For instance, for a Victorian newspaper to mention a "fallen woman" is part of a cultural narrative. It isn't really a moral judgement, as the term has the implicit agreement of those who are fallen, and it can be used in a sympathetic way, but within the term are carried huge amoounts of cultural baggage which constrain the ways in which "fallen women" can be thought of.

(Judith Walkowitz's "City of Dreadful Delight" is the work that popularised the idea of cultural narratives within the historical community and is a very good read, too.)
(Cassander)

Cassander, like Ed, I have also read Jenkins and “agree wholeheartedly with your analysis of his style and his (remaining) substance”. I have also met him (he once took me on during a seminar I was leading). He disapproves of my optimism and appears to believe in Althusser’s ‘Ideological State Apparatus” theory. (John Simkin)

“There is, however, one important point that needs addressing, which is that it is hard to escape from bias, and no historian is going to be truly neutral. The approach to explaining this that I prefer is to pose ideology against paradigms. An ideology is a set of parameters against which history is measured, criteria which must be fulfilled in order to explain the past. A paradigm, meanwhile, is a world view in which a historian is working. It's an understanding of the world without any necessary moral parameters.” (Cassander)

I think we all agree that it is impossible for a historian to be completely neutral. Nor is a sensible for historians to try and give the impression to their students that they are completely objective about the events they are teaching. I would once again quote from the HMI report on Curriculum 11-16 (December, 1977):

”All historical events have a moral interpretation, and our reactions to them are inescapedly subjective. We unavoidably, if covertly, praise or deplore when we come across a death, a victory, or a reform. So our relationship to the past is inescapably subjective. It is not the task of history to eliminate this but to increase the knowledge on which we base these subjective reactions.”

I believe history teachers should follow this HMI advice that we should not try to eliminate this subjective but instead “increase the knowledge on which we base these subjective reactions”.
(John Simkin)


So, for example, Marxist history is ideologically based. The key idea is not politically Marxist, but that all history is ultimately a record of materialist struggle and that groups within society - most notably classes - enter into conflict over material resources. Generally speaking Marxist historians write with a conscious belief in this, and use their work to show how materialist forces shaped history. And, it must be said, some very good work has been produced out of this way of thought; "Captain Swing" by Hobsbawn and Rude immediately springs to mind as how fresh life can be breathed into a subject by a materialist approach. (Cassander)

I agree that Marxists have added a great deal to help us understand events of the past. I think this is especially true of explaining motive in history. As you say, this has mainly involved explaining the economic forces that create change in society.

Marxists have also highlighted those people who are often absent in the story of the past. I am here mainly thinking of the work done by the History Workshop Group in the 1960s and 1970s. They did a great deal to encourage historians to pay attention to the role that the working class, women and ethnic minorities played in these events. They also stressed the importance of students using primary sources and the need to consider issues such as “interpretations”. It was this kind of thinking that influence people like myself who attempted to take this approach to history into the classroom. It was also a factor in the development of the SHP history course. Although the leaders of the SHP tried very hard to take the politics out of the course and promoted the role of the teacher as being one of the neutral chairman.

However, I would accept that the Marxist view of ideology does not tell the full story. In fact, the major mistake Marxists make is to ignore the fact that he was writing before Freud. Therefore they have tended to ignore the psychological reasons for false political consciousness.
(John Simkin)

“Paradigms on the other hand are somewhat harder to pin down, but one might consider "liberal democracy" to be one in which most historians are working. For instance, for nearly 150 years after its creation, the Treaty of Vienna was seen by historians as a great evil. Why? It was a creation (mostly) of despotic rulers, designed to ride rough-shod over the self-determination of the people of Europe. People living in liberal democracies generally aren't sympathetic to this kind of thing, and so the Treaty of Vienna was roundly condemned until the mid-twentieth century when, after two world wars, the idea of pragmatic international policies attracted rather more sympathy. There was no strict ideology running behind these feelings, however, no rules dictating how historians should think like this. Their work, rather, was influenced by the biases of the society in which they existed.” (Cassander)

I am not sure it is possible to differentiate between ideology and paradigms. The main reason is that ideology influences the creation of the paradigm. You say: “There was no strict ideology running behind these feelings, however, no rules dictating how historians should think like this. Their work, rather, was influenced by the biases of the society in which they existed.” Here you are talking about the “dominant ideology” at work. This is of course a Marxist concept. (John Simkin)

“That's one explanation of the differences between paradigm and ideology; the former is a product of society, the latter a product of intellectual thought. It is, as a result, very hard to avoid the former.” (Cassander)

Once again you appear to be talking about the dominant ideology. It is so dominant that it shapes both the “products of society” and the “product of intellectual life” (John Simkin)

Paradigms, however, are still only beginning to filter into general historical conciousness from the history of science (which, in turn, had borrowed the idea from the philosophy of science). It's also very hard to pin down with any exactitude, as paradigms largely revolve around unspoken assumptions. There's actually some really good work being produced by Joanna Bourke about the paradigms of conflict, which make for a fascinating challenge on common perceptions of what wars are like. (Cassander)

I agree with you that Joanna Bourke’ work does pose a threat to the dominant ideology. “An Intimate History of Killing” (1999) is an extremely important work. So also is her latest offering: “Fear: A Cultural History”. This is a book that helps us understand our post 9/11 world. (2005)

In an Intimate History of Killing Bourke argues that soldiers can enjoy war and even feel exhilaration at killing, and that unless one examines this, one cannot understand other emotions such as comradeship, bravery, guilt or trauma. She also disturbingly argues that people who we have in the past seen as the “best of men” are also the “best of killers”.

The book is important because it undermines the “nation’s traditional narrative” of the past. What I mean by this is that the dominant ideology provides a certain narrative that becomes part of the nation’s consciousness. This includes an image of a society gradually moving in the right direction. That this change takes place because of improvements made in “morality”. Therefore, slavery and child labour is brought to end because of the moral wisdom of our leaders. It is the same factor that convinces the ruling classes to grant universal suffrage. It is also the same reason why the nation took on Hitler and won. It is this same moral imperative that encourages Tony Blair to impose democracy on Iraq.
Of course, Marxists have always argued that it was economic and political factors that were causing these changes to take place. That the dominant ideology needed to disguise what was actually taking place and therefore had to emphasis the moral factors in this change. As I argued earlier, that is why our history books place great emphasis on the role of William Wilberforce played in bringing the slave trade to an end.

Bourke argues that the world is far more complicated than this version presented by Marxists. She takes into account the work of Freud and is keen to reinterpret our view of important events such as the behaviour of British soldiers during the Second World War. Bourke is unwilling to accept that these men were involved in a moral crusade. This is of course playing with fire. The nation is proud of its history. This is especially true of its role in the Second World War. We have no difficulty in dealing with the war crimes of foreigners, however, examining our role in for example, the bombing of civilian targets (and the non-bombing of transport links to Nazi extermination camps) is very much off limits.
(John Simkin)

Althusser’s ‘Ideological State Apparatus” theory". Which is...? (Ed Podesta)

Louis Althusser was the most influential philosopher to emerge in the revival of Marxist theory in the 1960s. Critics have claimed that Althusser attempted to fuse Marx’s and Nietzsche’s thought into a new synthesis.

Althusser’s view of the world is basically pessimistic. He developed the idea of society being controlled by the “Ideological State Apparatus”. According to Althusser, the education system is an important part of the Ideological State Apparatus. This is what he has to say about the role of the teacher who tries to teach against the dominant ideology:

“They are a kind of hero. But they are rare and how many (the vast majority) do not even begin to suspect the ‘work’ the system (which is bigger than they are and crushes them) forces them to do, or worse, put all their heart and ingenuity into performing it with the most advanced awareness (the famous new methods)” Louis Althusser, Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays (1971)

I completely reject Althusser’s pessimistic view of what the teacher can achieve. I rather like the words of Edward Kennedy speaking at the funeral of Robert Kennedy (8th June, 1968)

“My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life, to be remembered simply as a good decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.

Those of us, who loved him and who take him to his rest today pray that what he was to us and what he wished for others will someday come to pass for all the world.

As he said many times, in many parts of this nation, to those he touched and who sought to touch him: "Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not."

Or in the words of Martin Luther King: “He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.” (3rd April 1968)


#8 Ed Podesta

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Posted 07 March 2005 - 09:00 PM

I agree with you Chris, In Defense of History is a great read, and if you get the latest edition you also get the epilogue in which Evans answers his critics in a very amusing (and often downright rude) manner - v entertaining.

John Tosh, in Pursuit of History is also a good introduction to the epistemology of history.

You could, if you're a glutton for punishment, also try "Developments in Modern Historiography" ed. Henry Kozicki. Which reflects a wide range of concerns and the time in which it was written.

There's a couple of really interesting articles in this book on PM, I especially recommend Gerald N Izenbergs "Text, Context and Psychology in Intellectual History" and a superb vintage blast of Arthur Marwick's trumpet in ""A fetishism of Documents"?: The Salience of Source Based history."

Actually - now I think about it - if you can get hold of them (some uni libraries carry them) the materials for the Open University course Postgraduate foundation module in history (AA820) http://www3.open.ac....ll?C01AA820_1_0 give a really useful introduction to this topic.

Ed.

Edited by Ed Podesta, 07 March 2005 - 09:11 PM.


#9 Justin Q. Olmstead

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Posted 02 August 2005 - 02:58 PM

Two other books that are pretty informative on the subject of Historiography are Ernst Breisach's "Historiography: Ancient, Medieval and Modern." and Georg Iggers' "Historiography in the Twentieth Century: From Scientific Objectivity to the Postmodern Chanllenge." While I found Breisach easier to read they are both informative.

#10 Svjetlana Curcic

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Posted 22 November 2007 - 10:08 PM

I am not a historian by training which is perhaps why I have a question: I wonder why nobody mentioned Wilhelm Dilthey; perhaps he is not "post- " enough as in "post-modern"? I think his work "Pattern and meaning in history: Thoughts on History and Society" (Ed. H.P. Rickman) would be a good introduction to the "Philosophy of History" with some thoughts leading (or leaning) toward postmodern thinking (as opposed to e.g., Althusser as an introduction).

Svjetlana

#11 Andy Walker

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Posted 22 November 2007 - 11:58 PM

Essentially any intelligent teacher in the state system is going to sooner or later feel acutely the contrary pull of 2 forces - the internal desire to educate, transform, challenge and change the individuals set before them, and the state sanctioned irresistible force seeking to socialize, control and pacify.... all the more reason why trainee teachers should be exposed to a great big chunk of sociology in their training.
This may not make the challenge and contradiction any easier to reconcile, but at least it may start to give them some tools with which to understand it.

#12 John Simkin

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Posted 23 November 2007 - 08:12 AM

Essentially any intelligent teacher in the state system is going to sooner or later feel acutely the contrary pull of 2 forces - the internal desire to educate, transform, challenge and change the individuals set before them, and the state sanctioned irresistible force seeking to socialize, control and pacify.... all the more reason why trainee teachers should be exposed to a great big chunk of sociology in their training.
This may not make the challenge and contradiction any easier to reconcile, but at least it may start to give them some tools with which to understand it.


I agree although I would use the term "politically conscious" rather than "intelligent" to describe these teachers. When I was trained in the 1970s my tutors made me aware these two forces at work. For example, the resistance of the socialist movement to state education because of its objective to "control and pacify". From what I hear, this has been removed from their training and going by my discussions with teachers, few appear to be aware of these two sets of forces at work.

Another important factor is Leon Festinger's cognitive dissonance theory. This is the conflict between what we believe and what we do. According to Festinger, we invariably end up believing what we do. Therefore, as teachers, if we spend our time, attempting to "control and pacify" that is what you end up thinking that is what education is all about. The same is true of the examination system. We know in our hearts that teaching for the "tests" or "exams" is not really education, but we spend so much time doing it, we have to convince ourselves that it is.



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