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Past Futures

Past Futures: The Impossible Necessity of History

Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 326
  • Book Info
    Past Futures
    Book Description:

    InPast Futures, Ged Martin advocates examining the decisions that people take, most of which are not the result of a 'process,' but are reached intuitively.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2097-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Ged Martin
  4. 1 Redefining History at the Centre of Debate
    (pp. 1-10)

    It is not that historians ask the wrong questions, but rather that we have yet to pose all the right ones. Historical explanation, as we usually practise it, is ultimately impossible, although some approaches are more fallacious than others. Unfortunately, historical explanation is also a social necessity, since in its widest form it is an essential part of everybody’s daily life. Most of us have to take decisions, constantly to adopt strategies that respond to the world around us. So basic is this process that it hardly ever occurs to us to focus on the nature of a decision itself....

  5. 2 History versus the Past
    (pp. 11-32)

    One crucial distinction must be emphasized at the outset. There is an entire difference between ‘history’ and ‘the past.’ The past comprises the totality of the human experience, every step taken behind every plough by every peasant who has ever lived, every credit-card bill or tax return, every human action whether inspired by heroism or spite, every meal, every act of copulation. History, by contrast, is our selective attempt to make some sense of at least one corner of that enormous past, the process by which we put some of its chaos into order and seek to understand how and...

  6. 3 The Impossibility of Explanation
    (pp. 33-76)

    If incomplete survival of evidence from the past is a fundamental obstacle to our understanding, bizarre forms of historical argument constitute at least as great a handicap to understanding. These fall into two groups: those which assert wayward causal linkages between events and those which impose dubious theories which turn out to be little more than empty forms of words. While the former generate the more amusing blunders, the latter probably represent the greater threat to the survival of the craft. Perhaps their most pernicious contribution is that their very absurdity disguises the unpalatable truth that perfect historical explanation would...

  7. 4 The Moment of Decision
    (pp. 77-108)

    In the pages of Canadian history, Arthur Gordon is remembered (if at all) as the governor of New Brunswick whose prickly sense of self-importance complicated the province’s reluctant adherence to Confederation in 1867. Despite his remarkable ability to irritate both his colonial subjects and his imperial masters, Gordon continued to serve the British Empire in different parts of the globe. As the son of a former prime minister, Lord Aberdeen, he had the social influence to secure prestigious employment, and it seems to have suited his patrons to keep him as far from Britain as possible. A decade after he...

  8. 5 Past Futures
    (pp. 109-148)

    ‘If we could first knowwherewe are, andwhitherwe are tending, we could then better judgewhatto do, andhowto do it.’¹ The opening words of Abraham Lincoln’s ‘House Divided’ speech in 1858 contain the key to the task of locating events in time: present decisions are taken with an eye to future consequences. As Oakeshott pointed out, ‘[T]he present we occupy in practical understanding evokes future. Indeed, it evokes a variety of futures ... [I]n every action we seek a future condition of things, uncertain of achievement and sure only of its transience.’ In every...

  9. 6 A Long Time in History
    (pp. 149-186)

    The twentieth century still had two-thirds of its course to run when the American writer Alvin Toffler coined the term ‘future shock’ to describe the constantly accelerating impact of the unknown. Writing before the full impact of the computer had made itself felt, Toffler predicted that in the last decades of the twentieth century, ‘millions of ordinary, psychologically normal people will face an abrupt collision with the future.’¹ So it proved to be. Furthermore, it is abundantly clear that change is continuing with rapid, multiple, and bewildering force into the new century. Indeed, change is so unstoppable on all fronts...

  10. 7 Significance
    (pp. 187-242)

    One day in June 1944, the Allies invaded Normandy and began to drive the Nazi armies out of France. One day in June 2001, I ate breakfast and started to mark examination papers. The two sentence are similar in syntax, but even someone who takes breakfast seriously must recognize that the first statement describes a more noteworthy historical event than the second. If we are to discern a structure within the sweep of time, to identify landmarks that can relate past events and trends to each other and to our fleeting present, we require some approach and terminology that will...

  11. 8 Objections, Review, and Tailpiece
    (pp. 243-262)

    As a book nears completion, it behoves an author to review its arguments and to ask how they may be received by critics. The reviewing of books is not the most charitable activity in academe, nor should it be. It does not help when authors refuse to accept some responsibility for the misunderstandings that arise from their own obfuscations. On the face of it, the present work seems wide open to attack. Here, it will be said, is a professor who insists that historical explanation is impossible, that it is never possible to say with certainty that ‘A caused B,’...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 263-294)
  13. Index
    (pp. 295-306)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-314)