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Clio among the Muses

Clio among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanities

Peter Charles Hoffer
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: NYU Press
Pages: 196
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  • Book Info
    Clio among the Muses
    Book Description:

    History helps us understand change, provides clues to our own identity, and hones our moral sense. But history is not a stand-alone discipline. Indeed, its own history is incomplete without recognition of its debt to its companions in the humane and social sciences. InClio among the Muses, noted historiographer Peter Charles Hoffer relates the story of this remarkable collaboration. Hoffer traces history's complicated partnership with its coordinate disciplines of religion, philosophy, the social sciences, literature, biography, policy studies, and law. As in ancient days, when Clio was preeminent among the other eight muses, so today, the author argues that history can and should claim pride of place in the study of past human action and thought.Intimate and irreverent at times,Clio among the Musessynthesizes a remarkable array of information. Clear and concise in its review of the companionship between history and its coordinate disciplines, fair-minded in its assessment of the contributions of history to other disciplines and these disciplines' contributions to history, Clio among the Muses will capture the attention of everyone who cares about the study of history. For as the author demonstrates, the study of history is something unique, ennobling, and necessary. One can live without religion, philosophy and the rest. One cannot exist without history. Rigorously documented throughout, the book offers a unique perspective on the craft of history.Peter Charles Hofferhas taught history at Harvard, Ohio State, Notre Dame, Brooklyn College, and the University of Georgia since 1968, and specializes in historical methods, early American history, and legal history. He has authored or co-authored over three dozen books, and edited another twenty. Previous titles includeThe Historian's Paradox: The Study of History in Our Time(NYU Press, 2008).

    eISBN: 978-1-4798-6252-8
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction: The Problem with History
    (pp. 1-8)

    Clio, paramount among the nine ancient Greek muses, was gifted by her mother with memory and shared lyric skills with her eight sisters. She inspired those who assayed to sing, tell, and write stories of the past. Ancient audiences held the followers of Clio in high regard, for they captured the imagination of the listener and reader. For Hellenes gathered around the fire pit to hear Homer sing about Troy, or Hellenized Romans who delighted in reading their copy of Plutarch’sParallel Lives, or the monks in the English abbeys who squinted in the candlelight as they re-read older chronicles...

  5. 1 History and Religion
    (pp. 9-24)

    Religion is both history’s foremost rival and first aegis. The result is an uneasy collaboration. The earliest surviving invocations of priests and religious mystics include references to history. With these words the intimate tie of history and religion is written and sealed—that is, if history is God’s work and our study of history a search for the details of God’s decree. Even for the skeptic, the impulse behind religion—to find the deeper meaning of the spirit—is never far from the motivating force behind the study of history. Religion and history are prickly but avowed partners in this...

  6. 2 History and Philosophy
    (pp. 25-48)

    Like religion and history, philosophy and history have a long, complicated, sometimes fruitful and sometimes difficult relationship. Perhaps the awkwardness in the collaboration is a byproduct of professional instincts. Historians are wary of addressing basic questions of knowing. Philosophers revel in those same questions. But questions of how we know about the past and how we present that knowledge are not just matters of historical method. They run deeper, as an examination of the ties between history and philosophy reveals. David Hume said it even better, in part because he was a superb philosopher as well as a meticulous chronicler,...

  7. 3 History and the Social Sciences
    (pp. 49-71)

    Religion and philosophy elevate history’s humanistic qualities, the desire and the ability to know more about ourselves, a collaboration whose roots go back to written history’s inception. But historical knowing has a less yielding side as well, an inclination to scientific rigor. After all, to say that history is a way of knowing this or that is to say that someone is doing research into original or primary sources and finding evidence to assemble into facts. Doing history is piecing together bits of evidence to make facts and then selecting and arraying facts to make arguments about what most likely...

  8. 4 History and Literature
    (pp. 72-87)

    At its best, historical scholarship respects religion, reconciles with philosophy, and embraces social science, permitting faith, reason, and science to join in historical judgment. But as Francis Bacon understood, there are always blanks and spaces in the evidence that the historian’s wit and artistry must fill. Writing history is a literary act. Can and should the canons of fine literature and literary criticism inform the historian’s powers of observation and reportage? Is history an art form? To be sure, historians of art will remind us that different cultures and different time periods had different definitions of a work of art....

  9. 5 History and Biography
    (pp. 88-109)

    Biographers see themselves as a special breed of historians, concerned with how one person “lived, moved, spoke, and enjoyed a certain set of human attributes.” Thus, of all the genres of history, biography is the closest to literature. This does not always bring the biographer a place in the front ranks of historians. “Consider how uneasily biography lies between historical writing and belles lettres.” If, like the novelist, the biographer probes the hearts and minds of people in search of character and motive; if biography “humanizes the past,” it also narrows that past to a single path. Biographers may explore...

  10. 6 History and Policy Studies
    (pp. 110-134)

    The study of greatness in men and women often focuses on the decisions they made—decisions that affected many around them and in some cases still affect us today. Policy studies, the modern analysis of decision making, has gone far beyond assessments of character and intelligence, the stuff of most biographies. The story of this companion of history begins with the creation of the RAND Corporation in 1949, a Research ANd Development think tank created to study the options for achieving a lasting peace during the Cold War. RAND mathematicians developed models for decision making, among which is the so-called...

  11. 7 History and the Law
    (pp. 135-150)

    The cartoonist and wit Jimmy Hatlo’s “There Oughta Be a Law” was a long-running newspaper feature. He solicited topics for the cartoon from his readers. Their responses captured an essential fact about law in America. Americans are a people of laws. We have always expected the law to express our values. We have certainly made a lot of law, and we are surrounded by constitutions, acts of Congress, state statutes, court rulings, executive decrees, and municipal ordinances. We have more lawyers and more litigation than any modern society, and our passion for going to law, following cases in the media,...

  12. Conclusion: An Answer?
    (pp. 151-154)

    In these pages I have argued that without their tie to religion, the first histories would have had little purpose. Without the infusion of philosophical rigor, history would have taught little of lasting value. Without the introduction of social sciences, history might have been dismissed as mere antiquarianism, like its subject matter a relic of a bygone world. Without literary art, history would not be worth reading. Without biographies, history would have had far fewer readers. Without policy studies, history would have little significance for the very people who have the greatest impact on our world. Without its ties to...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 155-176)
    (pp. 177-180)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 181-186)
    (pp. 187-187)