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Meaning and Representation in History

Meaning and Representation in History

Edited by Jörn Rüsen
Copyright Date: 2008
Edition: 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 292
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  • Book Info
    Meaning and Representation in History
    Book Description:

    History has always been more than just the past. It involves a relationship between past and present, perceived, on the one hand, as a temporal chain of events and, on the other, symbolically as an interpretation that gives meaning to these events through varying cultural orientations, charging it with norms and values, hopes and fears. And it is memory that links the present to the past and therefore has to be seen as the most fundamental procedure of the human mind that constitutes history: memory and historical thinking are the door of the human mind to experience. At the same time, it transforms the past into a meaningful and sense bearing part of the present and beyond. It is these complex interrelationships that are the focus of the contributors to this volume, among them such distinguished scholars as Paul Ricoeur, Johan Galtung, Eberhard Lammert, and James E. Young. Full of profound insights into human society pat and present it is a book that not only historians but also philosophers and social scientists should engage with.

    eISBN: 978-0-85745-555-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Preface to the Series
    (pp. ix-xiv)
    Jörn Rüsen
  5. INTRODUCTION: What does “Making sense of history” mean?
    (pp. 1-6)
    Jörn Rüsen

    History is not a simple fact. It is not here in the way that I am here, sitting at my desk writing this introduction. It has to do with the past, and the past consists of real things, which happened at a certain time and in a certain place, for certain reasons and in a context of other facts. But a summary of what happened in the past is not history. Before we call them history, past happenings must possess a certain quality; a connection of the past with the present.

    Those who discuss the question of what history is...

  6. Part I: Meaning

    • CHAPTER 1 Memory—Forgetting—History
      (pp. 9-19)
      Paul Ricoeur

      Perhaps I might be allowed to begin with an observation that puzzled me and that inspired me to reflect on the topic of memory and forgetting in history. It has to do with the spectacle offered by the post–Cold War period and the problem of difficulty of integrating traumatic memories from the totalitarian era. Among some, especially in the West, one might well deplore ashortage of memoryand anexcess of forgetting. Among others, for example in the Balkans, one would be more inclined to complain of anexcess of memory,since events connected with past greatness or...

    • CHAPTER 2 How Meaning Came into the World and What Became of It
      (pp. 20-39)
      Günter Dux

      In the wake of the three revolutions that led up to modernity—the revolutions in natural science, industry, and politics—the world has become a different world. We ourselves have become different, and we must learn to understand ourselves differently. As always, controversy surrounds just how the human life form is to be understood. Nonetheless, certain basic presuppositions can be established.

      One indisputable presupposition involves an evolutionary understanding of the organizational forms of human life, regardless of how one goes on to define the mechanisms of evolution. Such an understanding recognizes that within the continuity of evolution there are discontinuities,...

    • CHAPTER 3 Sense of History: What does it mean? With an Outlook onto Reason and Senselessness
      (pp. 40-64)
      Jörn Rüsen

      There is hardly anything as outdated as reflecting on the sense of history, let alone twinning it with reason.⁴ Both activities have fallen into discredit, so much so that attempts to reinstate them as categories of historical thinking seem pointless, that is, without sense or reason. If there is a rational answer at all regarding the question about the sense of history (that is, whether it is “generally agreeable for good reasons”), it would be a negative one. Sense and reason, it seems, can be rehabilitated only at mutual cost.

      Historical theory has long been engaged in criticizing as untenable...

    • CHAPTER 4 “The Meaning of History”: A Modern Construction and Notion?
      (pp. 65-88)
      Jörn Stückrath

      It is remarkable that the expression “meaning(Sinn)of history,” which rapidly came into fashion in the twentieth century, can barely be traced back in the German language further than the mid nineteenth century. The search for the origin of the expression—starting from Joseph Bernhart to Karl Heussi, Nikolaus Berdjajew, Heinrich Rickert, Max Nordau, Georg Simmel, Wilhelm Dilthey, and Ernst Bernheim—so far only goes back to Hermann Lotze.¹ In the third volume (1864) of hisMikrokosmos: Ideen zur Naturgeschichte und Geschichte der Menschheit—Versuch einer Anthropologie,which was informed by Herder’sIdeen zur Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit,...

    • CHAPTER 5 The Meanings of History: Enacting the Sociocultural Code
      (pp. 89-107)
      Johan Galtung

      Let us imagine that not we, but animals, plants and micro-organisms were attending a meeting. And let us imagine that they had all accepted the invitation to come and discuss the meaning of history, all sitting in a wonderful room—the lion, the wolf and the lamb, the scorpion, some amoebae, some choice roses, some rather ugly weeds, and so on. All well prepared.

      And the chair animal puts this question to all of them:What is the meaning of your historicity?An introductory talk follows from a lion, Léon-Coeur, and he explicitly states, “the meaning of my life is...

    • CHAPTER 6 The Three Levels of “Sinnbildung” in Historical Writing
      (pp. 108-122)
      Frank R. Ankersmit

      Twentieth-century philosophy is predominantly a philosophy of language and of how language relates to the world. Until some twenty to thirty years ago, in what I shall refer to as the modernist phase of contemporary philosophy of language, one focused on the singular true statement and on the kind of statements of reality that are found in the sciences. Modernist philosophers of language, convinced that the true statement and the scientific theory provided the philosopher of language with paradigmatic models for how language and reality are related, therefore concluded that the statement and the scientific theory held the key to...

    • CHAPTER 7 The Reality of History
      (pp. 123-136)
      David Carr

      History as a branch of knowledge begins with a distinct handicap. While there may be serious disputes about whether theology, for example, has any object, there is a broad consensus that the object of history does not exist at all. In view of this fact it is perhaps no wonder that skepticism about history’s claims to knowledge has always been widespread.

      Reasons for this skepticism are not hard to come by. The events of the past cannot be seen, heard, or felt, and any assertions we make about them must be grounded by the most indirect means. Testimony to their...

    • CHAPTER 8 Language and Historical Experience
      (pp. 137-152)
      Frank R. Ankersmit

      In the autobiographies and letters of several historians since Herder we may find testimonies of their having undergone what I shall call a “historical experience.” As becomes clear from their accounts, historical experience gave them a sudden revelation of “what the was past actually like.” This unexpected revelation of the past—often experienced by them as a sudden falling away of all temporal distance—is always accompanied by a conviction of complete “authenticity”; that is, by the conviction that this experience of the past can not be a delusion, but is as real and reliable as what is given to...

  7. Part II: Representation

    • CHAPTER 9 Flights from History: Reinventing Tradition between the 18th and 20th Centuries
      (pp. 155-168)
      Aleida Assmann

      “Tradition does not consist of relics, but of certificates and legacies.”¹ Hans Blumenberg’s statement draws attention to the originally legal character of the concept of tradition. Tradition does not consist of relics. This means, first of all: tradition does not generate itself, it does not arise naturally. Geological structures, for instance, can develop by themselves, one stratum overlaying another. Over a period of several thousand years, this growth results in a profile that makes the depth of time legible. In Blumenberg’s view, tradition has nothing to do with such organic patterns in nature. Yet this is not to say that...

    • CHAPTER 10 Memory and Identity: How Memory Is Reconstructed after Catastrophic Events
      (pp. 169-182)
      Alessandro Cavalli

      In this paper I will present the theoretical framework of a long-term research project I have been engaged in since 1985. This project entails extensive empirical field work, but I will not go into the details of the empirical findings; I will use the results of the empirical work only to illustrate the main theoretical guiding concepts.

      The first piece of empirical material I am referring to is a study conducted in the early 1980s on orientations and representations of time by young people. One aspect of this research focused on what German scholars call the “problem of historical consciousness”...

    • CHAPTER 11 The Material Presence of the Past: Reflections on the Visibility of History
      (pp. 183-208)
      Detlef Hoffmann

      The focus of this chapter is on how past events are currently present, how they are existing and visible in present times. This is not the place to discuss whether past events can jump unproblematically into history. However, the title suggests not only the heightening of a difficulty, but also that it is settled between two poles: The material presence of history (the past) aims at the pleasure of the knowledgeable collector, that is, it is a heuristic intention, whereas the question of the visibility of history tends to fundamental nature. To collect positive material is possible; act of the...

    • CHAPTER 12 Ruins: A Visual Expression of Historical Meaning
      (pp. 209-222)
      Moshe Barasch

      Early in the second half of the eighteenth century, Sir William Chambers was appointed architect to the Crown Princess Augusta, the mother of King George III, with the task of reshaping Kew Gardens, later to become one of the greatest botanical gardens in the world. He tried to give the garden a particular character, and to do so he erected buildings that were to become famous all over Europe. Both in style and in cultural connotations Chambers’ attitude was syncretistic. In addition to a Chinese pagoda eight stories tall, he inserted into the “wilderness” of Kew Gardens a mosque, some...

    • CHAPTER 13 Three Versions of Wallenstein: Differences of Meaning Production between Historiography, Biography, and Novel
      (pp. 223-238)
      Eberhard Lämmert

      Our schoolteachers have handed down to us an image of Wallenstein as one of the most fascinating personages of the Thirty Years’ War, and even if one knows little more than that he was of Bohemian origin and an imperial generalissimo for a while, this apparently suffices to remind us that treason was also involved. Dozens of dramatic plays, the first of which was even published during his lifetime, and the ambitions of historians, extending into this century, to confront the reliable with the unreliable sources, have in our collective memory firmly associated the notion of “treason” with his name....

    • CHAPTER 14 The Arts of Jewish Memory in a Postmodern Age
      (pp. 239-254)
      James E. Young

      Given our present skepticism of national memory and the self-aggrandizing versions of the past it bequeaths us in our memorial institutions, it might seem a little strange to regard the museum as “a kind of key paradigm in contemporary postmodern culture,” as Andreas Huyssen has characterized it.¹ But in fact, Huyssen’s point is very well-taken: an ever larger proportion of our cultural time is now being devoted not only to collecting the past and arranging it around ourselves, but also to arranging ourselves around the past. Indeed, as Huyssen has also suggested, the forms of memory seem to multiply in...

  8. Bibliography
    (pp. 255-266)
  9. Notes on the Contributors
    (pp. 267-270)
  10. Index of Names
    (pp. 271-274)