Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Theorizing Historical Consciousness

Theorizing Historical Consciousness

Edited by Peter Seixas
Copyright Date: 2004
Pages: 240
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Theorizing Historical Consciousness
    Book Description:

    Our understanding of the past shapes our sense of the present and the future: this is historical consciousness. While academic history, public history, and the study of collective memory are thriving enterprises, there has been only sparse investigation of historical consciousness itself, in a way that relates it to the policy questions it raises in the present. WithTheorizing Historical Consciousness, Peter Seixas has brought together a diverse group of international scholars to address the problem of historical consciousness from the disciplinary perspectives of history, historiography, philosophy, collective memory, psychology, and history education.

    Historical consciousness has serious implications for international relations, reparations claims, fiscal initiatives, immigration, and indeed, almost every contentious arena of public policy, collective identity, and personal experience. Current policy debates are laced with mutually incompatible historical analogies, and identity politics generate conflicting historical accounts. Never has the idea of a straightforward 'one history that fits all' been less workable.Theorizing Historical Consciousnesssets various theoretical approaches to the study of historical consciousness side-by-side, enabling us to chart the future study of how people understand the past.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-8261-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Contributors
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-20)

    The trials and scandals of the 1990s that constructed the twenty-fourhour cable news networks, and which they helped to construct, have rendered the notion of ‘breaking news’ commonplace. After September 11, 2001, CNN regularly flashed the phrase on its multi-windowed broadcast screens. The ‘break’ connotes excitement and urgency, freedom and danger. In an era of ‘breaking news,’ when more people in more places can focus more uniformly on a smaller selection of media-worthy events, a new History News Network ( has not coincidentally mobilized historians to write op-ed columns suitable for daily newspapers, to provide antecedents, roots, and historical background...

  6. I. Historiographies and Historical Consciousness

    • [PART I Introduction]
      (pp. 21-24)

      In the first chapter of this collection, Chris Lorenz treats the professional historian as both producer and product of more generalized collective memory, and thus makes an important contribution to the understanding of historical consciousness, without making the term itself central. Thanks to his care in the handling of the role of professional historiography in the construction of historical identity among populations in general, his contribution makes a most appropriate first chapter in this volume. Lorenz uses the case of Quebec and Canada as a vehicle for the exposition of a capacious and wide-ranging analytical framework, with ‘historical identity,’ or...

    • Towards a Theoretical Framework for Comparing Historiographies: Some Preliminary Considerations
      (pp. 25-48)

      In his recent bookMaking History in Twentieth-Century Quebec, Montreal historian Ronald Rudin starts his introduction with the following somewhat paradoxical observation:

      The point has often been made that history occupies a privileged place in Quebec culture. The motto of the province —Je me souviens(I remember) is but one indicator of this reverence for the past. Another is the special status still reserved in Quebeckers’ collective memory for Abbe Groulx, the first full-time university professor of Quebec history, more than twenty-five years after his death. In spite of this interest in the past, however, no single volume has yet...

    • Specific Narratives and Schematic Narrative Templates
      (pp. 49-62)

      As Peter Seixas notes in his introduction to this volume, contemporary analyses of historical consciousness draw on many disciplines and intellectual traditions. These include education, history, memory studies, psychology, and museum studies. This makes for an interesting and lively discussion, but it also presents a challenge when we are trying to find a shared focus. The range of voices is sometimes so wide that it is difficult to know whether they are all involved in the same discussion at all. Motivated by such concerns, Seixas argues for the need to find common and overlapping themes that will facilitate cross-fertilization.


    • Historical Consciousness: Narrative Structure, Moral Function, and Ontogenetic Development
      (pp. 63-85)

      The ancient castle of Col is located in the highlands of Scotland. It is the ancestral residence of the chiefs of the Maclean clan and is still in the possession of a member of the Maclean family, who lives in the castle. On the wall is a stone engraved with the following inscription:If any man of the dan oj Maclonich shall appear before this castle, though he come at midnight, with a man ’s head in his hand, he shall find here safety and protection against all,

      This text is from an old Highlands treaty concluded upon a highly...

    • History, Memory, and Historical Distance
      (pp. 86-102)

      Questions of ‘distance’ have been debated in a number of disciplines, including aesthetics, theatre, narratology, and sociology. In history, however, the issue has generally been left to the quieter realms of practice, where craft rather than theory prevails. Even so, the question seems too important for historians to overlook. In the complex matter of constructing a past that we can engage with – one that is both true to our discipline and responsive to our interests – problems of proximity and distance arise at a multitude of levels. Nor need we limit the issue to traditional forms of historical narration, since similar...

  7. II. History Education and Historical Consciousness

    • [PART II Introduction]
      (pp. 103-108)

      The study of collective memory per se emphasizes the cultural and historical specificity of forms and institutions of memory. Issues of policy, which speak to real and pressing social and political needs in the present, are generally absent. While there may be an underlying nostalgia in Nora, or a critique of the field of memory studies as regressive nostalgia in Klein and Spiegel, one can study collective memory without an explicit normative stance. The goal is to understand how institutions of memory worked in the historical circumstances in which they were constructed and maintained. This normative agnosticism is not possible...

    • Young People’s Assimilation of a Collective Historical Memory: A Case Study of Quebeckers of French-Canadian Heritage
      (pp. 109-128)

      When young, fifteen-to twenty-five-year-old Quebeckers of French-Canadian heritage attending secondary school, college, or university are asked, without prior warning, to tell the history of Quebec since its beginnings, this is, broadly, what they all write:

      In the beginning, there were people who had come from France.They lived a fairly rudimentary, but peaceful, life, in a world they were building together in French. They suffered under the twin annoyances of a colonial regime and a mercantile system, but felt no need to rebel against the mother country. They traded with the indigenous people, and gradually became aware of the considerable economic...

    • Understanding History
      (pp. 129-164)

      History education is often thought of as a relatively straightforward matter: it is learning what happened in the past. Everyone admits to some difficulties, of course. Students of all ages will have to come to grips with more or less specialized concepts belonging to the past activities that historians discuss (for example, in economics, art, diplomacy, or politics). Youngsters will have to face the complexities of an adult world. But the world of history is ‘recognizably “ordinary,” requiring no special concepts of description or explanation other than those commonly appropriate to the subject matter.’¹ Learning history is a matter of...

  8. Historical Consciousness and Historical Education: What to Expect from the First for the Second
    (pp. 165-182)

    Recently, Eric Hobsbawm, like many before him, urged vigilance and prudence on his fellow historians, an injunction repeated thousands of times over since Paul Valéry's famous aphorism, ‘History is the most dangerous product the chemistry of the brain has ever created.’ Hobsbawm, reminding historians that they are ‘the primary producers of the raw material that is turned into propaganda and mythology,’ warned them about the possible misuse or abuse of the information they provide to the public: ‘It is quite essential,’ he insisted, ‘that historians should constantly remember this. The crops we cultivate in our fields may end up as...

  9. III. The Politics of Historical Consciousness

    • [PART III Introduction]
      (pp. 213-216)

      It is one thing to theorize about the relationship of academic historians and the shaping of collective memory through state institutions; it is quite a different thing to study how this relationship actually works. In this era of accelerated social, cultural, and political change, regimes around the world struggle to remake what is taught in schools, presented in museums, and represented in monuments. As conceived by officeholders responding to various political pressures, the question is ‘What deserves to be remembered?’ The problem is one of collective memory: less George Washington, more Sojourner Truth; less Voertrekkers, more Stephen Biko; or less...

    • Disputed Territory: The Politics of Historical Consciousness in Australia
      (pp. 217-239)

      April 25th is a sacred day in the Australian calendar. It marks the occasion of the Gallipoli landings in 1915 when Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) soldiers and sailors, together with British and French troops, began their ill-fated Great War campaign against the Turks, an eight-month conflict that resulted in a total half a million casualties on both sides.

      Anzac Day is commemorated as a national holiday, in remembrance of a tragic occasion (almost) universally considered to have drawn the parochially inclined post-Federation states together in the development of an Australian national identity, still referred to (subject to...

    • The Pursuit of the Past: A Polemical Perspective
      (pp. 240-255)

      ‘Time is not a single train, moving in one direction at a constant speed,’ notes the Trieste writer Claudio Magris.’ Every so often it meets another train coming in the opposite direction, from the past, and for a short while that past is with us, by our side, in our present.’¹ Magris’s metaphor captures nicely the ordinary state of things with regard to our posture visa-vis the past. Time may be experienced as ‘full’ or ‘empty,’ depending on one’s historical and social location, but it usually appears, at least, to move forward at a more or less constant rate, with...