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Turning Points in Historiography

Turning Points in Historiography: A Cross-Cultural Perspective

Q. Edward Wang
Georg G. Iggers
Copyright Date: 2002
Edition: NED - New edition
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 362
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  • Book Info
    Turning Points in Historiography
    Book Description:

    Until recently almost all histories of historiography have focused on national developments or at best introduced a comparative note from a limited Western perspective. Only in the last few years have there been serious attempts to transcend these borders. The present volume examines turning points in historical thought in a variety of cultures. The essays in the first half of the book deal with fundamental reorientations in historical thinking in the pre-modern period since Antiquity, specifically in ancient Greece and China and in medieval Christian Europe, the Islamic world and again China. The essays all proceed from the premise that historical thought in none of these cultures was static but underwent profound changes over time. The essays in the second part deal with historical writing beginning with the professionalization of history in the nineteenth century. National history researched and composed around a master narrative constituted a major turning point in this period. Although the new paradigm emerged in the West, it was broadly accepted by historians throughout the the twentieth century. Individual chapters deal with conceptions of scientific history in the West, a comparison of national histories in Japan, France, and the United States, and the invention of Chinese, African, and Indian national histories; finally the critiques of the modern paradigm in postmodernist and postcolonial theory and a consideration of the shortcomings of these critiques. Georg Iggers is Professor Emeritus of History at the State University of New York at Buffalo; Q. Edward Wang is Associate Professor of History at Rowan University.

    eISBN: 978-1-58046-672-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-viii)
    Q. Edward Wang and Georg G. Iggers
  4. 1. Introduction
    (pp. 1-16)
    Q. Edward Wang and Georg G. Iggers

    “Turning point” as a metaphor has a broad appeal to people interested in change. It has hitherto been used by psychologists, sociologists, educators, philosophers, and most of all, historians, to identify a major event, or a series of events, in the history of a life, a discipline, an institution, a society, or civilization.¹ Such an event is seen in retrospect to have influenced the future course of development of the society being scrutinized. In his lecture series on the rise of Europe delivered in Japan, Geoffrey Barraclough, an eminent English historian, offered an example of how to identify turning points...

  5. Part I

    • 2. The Invention of History: From Homer to Herodotus
      (pp. 19-30)
      François Hartog

      The Greeks are considered to be the first inventors of history, and Greece is seen as the place from which everything began. Isn’t Herodotus thought to be the “father of history,” at least since Cicero (although Cicero quickly added, “even if [with him] there are innumerable fables.”)? Father, surely, but for whom and meaning what? For the ancients? Or for us, the moderns, inheritors of a historical culture fashioned by and through the Western tradition?

      Two approaches offer themselves, as a starting point, for answering these questions: decentering and historicization. To decenter and historicize Greek experience would be to confront...

    • 3. The Ch’in Unification (221 B.C.) in Chinese Historiography
      (pp. 31-44)
      Chun-chieh Huang

      “Six warring states seized to complete the unification of great lands and far seas; great forests on Mt. Shu balded only to erect A-fang Palace,” bemoaned the T’ang Dynasty (618–907) poet Tu Mu (803–852). The Ch’in state, located in the wild west of China proper, with its “Sturm und Drang” militant power, conquered disparate kingdoms and unified the land in 221 B.C. However, this very first Chinese Dynasty prospered only fifteen years before it melted into thin air. Nonetheless, the quick rise and decline of the Ch’in Dynasty (221–206 B.C.) constituted a major turning point in Chinese...

    • 4. From Ancient to Medieval Historical Thinking
      (pp. 45-58)
      Ernst Breisach

      Few assertions of a turning point in history have been so firmly and successfully asserted as the one concerning the change from the ancient to the medieval period in Europe. Its importance is proven by its incorporation into the basic periodization scheme of Western civilization: ancient, medieval, and modern.¹ The assertion of a change that involved all of life also implied a change in historical understanding. But there was no consensus on what took place, how and when. The use of the concept of a turning point invites us to ponder the question of how to explain a large-scale change...

    • 5. New Directions in Northern Sung Historical Thinking (960-1126)
      (pp. 59-88)
      Thomas H. C. Lee

      Scholars generally agree that Chinese historical thinking reached a turning point and underwent significant changes in Sung China (960–1278). The changes included the Neo-Confucian interest in the moral purpose of historical studies,¹ a more practical approach to the idea ofcheng-t’ung(legitimate political transmission),² a significant refinement in historical criticism and, last but not least, an increased sophistication in the writing historical commentaries (shih-p’ing).³ There are also other features that were characteristically new, such as the broadened definition of source materials and the creation of new categories of historical writing, including notably the compilation of local gazetteers.⁴

      Most of...

    • 6. Turning Points in Islamic Historical Practice
      (pp. 89-100)
      R. Stephen Humphreys

      “Turning point” is not a formal concept but a metaphor; it suggests to us a moment, a particular place, when we cease to go along the same road we have been following and instead head off in some different direction. It is fair to ask how much this metaphor really contributes to our understanding of the development of historical writing among the peoples of medieval Islam. To start with, it embodies the very bold premise that the vast medieval Islamic world can be taken as a bloc—this enormous realm stretching from Gibraltar to the Pamirs, over a period of...

    • 7. The Historicization of Classical Learning in Ming-Ch’ing China
      (pp. 101-144)
      Benjamin A. Elman

      In the middle of the Ch’ing dynasty (1644–1911), the Che-chiang literatus Chang Hsueh-ch’eng (1738–1801) enunciated what became one of the most commented upon slogans in late nineteenth and early twentieth century Chinese intellectual circles: “The Six Classics are all Histories” (liu-ching chieh shih yeh).² Since the Han dynasties, the Classics had been referred to as the “sagely Classics” (sheng-ching). Together with the Four Books, which became canonical in Sung (960–1280) and Yuan (1280–1368)) times, the Classics became the basis for a classical education in late imperial schools and at home. To become an official, study of...

  6. Part II

    • 8. Conceptions of Scientific History in the Nineteenth-Century West
      (pp. 147-162)
      Eckhardt Fuchs

      Peter Burke recently developed ten categories of Western historical thinking and discussed them from a cross-cultural perspective. He states that the specific combination of these elements characterizes the phenomenon of Western historical thinking, especially in the modern period, that differentiated it from non-Western modes.¹ Although Burke carefully eschews the assumption that there was a single and monolithic historiographical scholarship in the West, he nevertheless thinks that these general categories can become a basis for a global comparison of historiographical thinking. Applying these categories to nineteenth-century Western historiography, however, we find that they took different shapes in varying contexts. Talking about...

    • 9. National Histories and World Systems: Writing Japan, France, and the United States
      (pp. 163-184)
      Christopher L. Hill

      Cultural historians typically term the late nineteenth century the age of nationalism. Historians of historiography, when they have been sensitive to the eras in which historical works have been produced, no less typically see the efflorescence of “national history” during this period as a reflection of the nationalistic climate of the age. In such a view, the writing of history at this political and intellectual turning point served mainly to create a past for a new thing called the nation-state, to make this new thing old. Thus the argument is that the writing of national history naturalizes the “nation” as...

    • 10. China’s Search for National History
      (pp. 185-208)
      Q. Edward Wang

      This essay aims to trace the origin of national historical writing in twentieth-century China, yet it is clear to the author that this can be a perplexing task, for the term “national history,” orkuo-shih,in modern Chinese is not a neologism; it is rather an old usage that has existed in Chinese historiography for a number of centuries. Referring to a contemporary account of the history of the reigning dynasty, “National history,” orKuo-shih, first appeared in historical texts as early as the third century. It performed a similar function as theShih-lu(veritable records) andCh’i-chü-chu(court diary)...

    • 11. Nationalism and African Historiography
      (pp. 209-236)
      Toyin Falola

      The foundation for the turning points in writing about Africa was laid as far back as the fifteenth century. As the fifteenth century was about to close, Europeans began to ensure contacts with Africa. A century later, the primary motivation in the contact had become the trans-Atlantic slave trade. This trade was abolished in the nineteenth century, only to be replaced by the trade in raw materials. In the last quarter of the nineteenth century, commercial relations gave way to direct territorial control as Africa was partitioned by aggressive European powers. New countries emerged, under colonial control for most of...

    • 12. The Subaltern School and the Ascendancy of Indian History
      (pp. 237-270)
      Vinay Lal

      It is a rare moment indeed when a school of thought, whether in history or in any other discipline, from a formerly colonized nation that is still resoundingly a part of the Third World (whatever its pretensions to nuclear or great power status), receives in the Western academy the critical attention that has been bestowed upon the Subaltern School of historians, whose work revolves largely around the colonial period of Indian history. Historians might recall that even theAmerican Historical Review, which is seldom a journal at the cutting edge of theory, or otherwise prone to the bacchanalia of postmodern...

    • 13. A Critique of the Postmodern Turn in Western Historiography
      (pp. 271-286)
      Keith Windschuttle

      This conference is about turning points, and postmodernism certainly represents a turning point for historiography. However, rather than postmodernism leading somewhere fruitful, this essay will argue that it is a movement that turns the writing of history into a blind alley and leads it up to a dead end.

      Perhaps the most dramatic indicator of the state of the discipline of history in English-speaking countries today is that young people are abandoning it in droves. This was a tendency that, admittedly, was underway in the United States and elsewhere long before the 1990s, but as this decade has progressed, the...

    • 14. Postmodernism and Chinese History
      (pp. 287-324)
      Arif Dirlik

      The discussion below considers questions raised by postmodernism with specific reference to issues in the historiography of China. If I spend more time working through questions of postmodernism than on the historiography of China, it is because the former demands considerable clarification before there can be any evaluation of what it may imply for the study of Chinese history, where its effects have become visible only in the last few years. The few self-proclaimed efforts at writing postmodern histories of China have provoked an almost unthinking hostility among some historians, based mostly on a misunderstanding, if not a caricaturing of...

    • 15. Postscrípt
      (pp. 325-338)
      Richard T. Vann

      This chapter could be called “Conclusion” if I as a commentator had been able to reach firm conclusions, much lessaconclusion. Instead I am left with a substantial array of questions—not because the chapters have failed to be informative, but because the very richness and variety of the contributions have exhibited the puzzling condition in which the still infant study of the comparative history of historiography finds itself. We have been presented with cross-cultural studies, and, appropriately, several authors who come from various non-Western cultures. In consequence, as one might expect, there isn’t—and perhaps cannot be (?)...

  7. Contributors
    (pp. 339-342)
  8. Glossary
    (pp. 343-352)
  9. Index
    (pp. 353-362)
  10. Back Matter
    (pp. 363-363)