Current trajectories of history?

The key inspirer of Unofficial histories is Raphael Samuel for whom any discussion of historiography should be ’the ensemble of activities and practices in which ideas of history are embedded or a dialectic of past-present relations is rehearsed’ (1994). Hayden White’s recent works on what he calls ’practical past’ highlight also the interest in the nature of history that is characteristic for the outset of the 21st century .His concept covers the uses of the past that ’people outside the historical profession rely on as ’”a space of experience” for all kinds of judgements and decisions in daily life’. …
My forecast is that these two issues, on one hand the origins of history and on the other, its fundamental character will be lively discussed by historians in the near future. This anticipation was the incentive to travel from Finland in late April 2014 to the conference ’History after Hobsbawm’, organised in London by Birkbeck College, Institute for Historical Research and Past & Present. .
The most interesting paper at the conference was presented by Alison Light whose Common People: the History of an English Family came out of October 2014. her message hit the nail on the head: family history doesn’t just satisfy the curiosity of its constructor about the forefathers but may also lead to several valuable insights. It may refine one’s identity and belonging, question or unsettle taken for granted-interpretations, demythodologise deeply rooted beliefs etc.
Light’s presentation points towards a two-stage rethinking of history. The question is, in the first phase, of adopting a broader concept in the style of Samuel and White: an analysis of the ways in which people in general think about and use the past. One example is taking seriously accounts of the past constructed by non-professional people and acknowledging that they too belong to the category ‘history’. Or, giving up (in the words of Linda Colley) the idea that non-scholarly accounts of the past are ’amateur at best; at worst, dross, propaganda, fairy-tales’.
The second stage of rethinking refers to consequences implanted in this wider view of history, uncovering the role the past plays in people’s life. This would mean, among other things, adding a new criterion to the yardsticks against which a history will be assessed. The new criterion would be the significance of the history being assessed for the readers. In more general terms, this criterion provides the historian with an underestimated perspective for designing the research ahead. – – – – –
In any case, the two-stage rethinking I suggested with Alison Light’s paper as the starting point is a current, 21st century matter. Whether it is just an expansion of the paradigmatic change that took place at the end of the previous century or a harbinger of a new period in the development of historical theory is too early to say. What is certain is that it embodies the current trajectories.
social history-making, theory of history

The article as a whole, see Ennen ja nyt ? / 2914.

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