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Versions of History from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

Versions of History from Antiquity to the Enlightenment

Copyright Date: 1991
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 528
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  • Book Info
    Versions of History from Antiquity to the Enlightenment
    Book Description:

    The problems, purposes, and methods of history writing have been the subject of debate for almost three millennia. Should history be political or philosophical? Is the writing of history an art or a science? What are the limitations of history? This book is an intriguing collection of views on these and other aspects of history writing by eminent Western historians from early Greece to the end of the eighteenth century.

    The book contains major texts from 112 historians, both well-known and neglected, ranging from the "mythistories" of Homer and Hesiod to the "reasoned" and "philosophical" accounts of Vico and Voltaire. These texts discuss, for example, theories of historical change, problems of anachronism, narrative, and gender, questions of origins, causation, and historical patterns, and historical criticism. Donald R. Kelley, who selected and arranged the writings, also provides essays and commentary that give background material on the themes of historiography and on the authors included in the book

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13795-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Preface
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. 1 Introduction: Looking Backward
    (pp. 1-17)

    “How curious, after all, is the way in which we moderns think about our world!”¹ The opening sentence of E. A. Burtt’s famous book applies not only to scientific thought but also to modern historical consciousness. What possible motives could we have for prying into a departed and usually disillusioning past? Vanity or nostalgia, perhaps, but these sentiments hardly operate outside our circle of memories, whereas one of the goals—indeed, one of the defining characteristics—of Western culture is “to discover, ‘awaken,’ and repossess the most exotic and peripheral societies,” as Mircea Eliade put it; it is “no less...

  5. 2 Greece
    (pp. 18-68)

    The term and to some extent the concept ofhistorybegins with the Greeks. First as a method of inquiry and then as a kind of prose narrative concerned with such inquiry, history appeared in the fifth century B.C. and produced a variety of literary offspring devoted to the investigation, description, and analysis of the remote as well as the recent past. Born of human curiosity and nourished by the epic tradition, it matured into a form of knowledge which, despite links with Ionian science and the humanistic thrust of the Socratic revolution, was distinct from philosophy and so (according...

  6. 3 Rome
    (pp. 69-116)

    In Rome, history became identified in particular with national tradition and in general with the rhetorical genre devoted to true accounts of past deeds which had been set down in writing for the needs and desires of the present. As with the Greeks, the termhistoryreferred either to the past(res gestae)or to descriptions thereof(rei gestae narratio),but the emphasis was more often on its literary form than on its “real” content. By origin, Roman history was tied more to pontifical and consular records than to poetry, and it preserved its original prosaic and public character.


  7. 4 The Judeo-Christian Tradition
    (pp. 117-166)

    The biblical view of history and the tradition established by later commentators contrasted in many ways with classical theory and practice. Surveying Jewish antiquity, Josephus was openly scornful of Greek credulity and apparent lack of historical sense, and Christian authors continued this criticism. Yet in constructing a Judeo-Christian tradition, historians and scholars of late antiquity had to come to terms with classical culture and conceptualization as well as the oriental background of Greco-Roman tradition. Indeed, the attempts at reconciliation between paganism and Christianity created the framework of historical thought and writing from the late imperial period to early modern times....

  8. 5 The Middle Ages
    (pp. 167-217)

    The “barbarian” historians of early medieval Europe worked within the general Christian framework of universal history beginning with creation and with some vague recollection of classical historiography; but their theme was the story, sometimes legendary, of particular national traditions: Gothic, Frankish, Lombard, Anglo-Saxon, and others. The cultural activities accompanying the Carolingian renovation of empire to some extent renewed ties with classical culture, but monasteries formed the center of historical writing for much of the later medieval period, most notably in England and France.

    The “renaissance of the twelfth century,” as C. H. Haskins described it, included a revival of historical...

  9. 6 The Renaissance
    (pp. 218-310)

    The Renaissance conception of history was based on that of classical antiquity, but to the loci classici were added new emotions, values, attitudes, and judgments. For humanists, the art of history was central to the so-calledstudia humanitatiswhich defined their program, and it had close ties with the other humanities, especially grammar (historical sense being equivalent to grammatical or literal sense, in contrast to figurative interpretation), rhetoric (history, too, being devoted to concrete, causal, and didactic narrative), and moral philosophy (humanists recalling the aphorism of Dionysius of Halicarnassus designating history as “philosophy teaching by example”). The distinguishing feature of...

  10. 7 The Reformation
    (pp. 311-369)

    The Reformation, partly reinforced by the Renaissance sense of history and partly in reaction to it, powerfully shaped the European conception of history. On the one hand, evangelical reformers, following the Renaissance humanists wanted to go back to the pure sources of Christian doctrine and practice, the “primitive” and patristic periods of church history; on the other hand, they rejected the pagan implications of classicism and any notion that the “Romanists” retained ancient virtues of any sort. Like their Conciliarist predecessors (such as Henry of Langenstein), they wanted reformation in the sense of a Christian canon purged of the degenerate...

  11. 8 The Science of History
    (pp. 370-438)

    In the sixteenth century, under the combined intellectual forces of the Renaissance and the Reformation, the study of history was promoted by some scholars from the level of art to that of science, which is to say from the writing of historical narrative (the principal subject of the Italianate “arts” of history) to the reading and reorganization of histories for political and philosophical purposes (the aim of the French “methods” of history). The polemical needs of Reformation controversy enlisted the services of historical study, yet without losing the legacy of classical commonplaces (history teaching by example, and so on) which...

  12. 9 The Enlightenment
    (pp. 439-496)

    The practice and theory of history as conceived by Renaissance humanists was overshadowed by the Scientific Revolution of the seventeenth century and indeed was in many ways shaped and redirected by it. Though overshadowed by mathematics and natural philosophy, history benefitted from the empirical method of Bacon, from the elevated aspirations toward certainty promoted by Galilean science, and especially from the skepticism of Pierre Bayle, which contributed to historical criticism and to a sense of history that was by no means absent in the age of the philosophes. In the eighteenth century, the disparate traditions of erudite antiquities (with the...

  13. 10 Conclusion: Looking Forward
    (pp. 497-504)

    History has continued, as it began, as a sort of inquiry and judgment requiring written form. Coming into literary maturity in the eighteenth century and methodological independence in the nineteenth century, the study of history nevertheless preserved many of its old habits, concerns, patterns, and aspirations. There have been innumerable carryovers from the earlier, often seminal, stages of historiography. By nature history concentrates on, and is informed by, change; in the past two centuries this discipline has itself been transformed as well as professionalized through contact with new fields and methods. Yet the more enduring features have persisted in one...

  14. Select Bibliography
    (pp. 505-508)
  15. Index
    (pp. 509-515)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 516-516)