Relativity, Historicity and Historical Studies

Relativität, Historizität und historische Studien


One of the paradoxes of the growth of academic research in the humanities is the fact that increases in activity, that one might expect to lead to the consolidation of knowledge, often lead, instead, to a multiplication of approaches and perspectives.[1] Is history inherently relativistic then, multiplying its versions with its authors, and, if it is, does this matter?

Relativity

The spectre of relativism is conjured so frequently in debates in the humanities and in education that the notion that, in the period since the 1960s, irresponsible and relativistic scholars have betrayed tradition and corrupted the minds of the young has become a cliché of neo-traditionalist polemic. A similar story, but with an opposite and positive evaluation, is present in some postmodernist grand narratives of the end of grand narratives. In these versions of the rise-of-relativism story, ‘deconstructionist’ histories triumph over and displace the naïve “reconstructionist… empirical tradition handed down from the nineteenth century.”[2]

Paradoxically, relativism is often presented in an absolutist manner, as the proposition that nothing is true, and as a credo in which all is to be doubted apart from doubt itself:

In the British and American university departments where prospective teachers learn their trade… epistemological relativism has become the orthodoxy. Indeed, a general scepticism about the value of knowledge – particularly traditional subject knowledge – is so ubiquitous that the old-fashioned approach to education… has almost no defenders.[3]

Relativism need not be considered in an absolutist sense, of course. There are many ‘varieties of relativism’ and the proposition that claims are relative to the questions that they answer, for example, by no means entails the notion that no claims are valid or that ‘anything goes’, since question-relativity does not preclude judgmental rationality.[4]

Historicity

Notwithstanding some neo-traditionalist, modernist and postmodernist accounts, a particular kind of relativity has been inherent in the discipline of history for almost as long as the discipline has existed: a relativity bound up with historicity. For von Ranke, the past was to be understood in its own terms and studying the past, as Bevernage and others have suggested, entails a performative act of ‘pasting’, or declaring something to be ‘over’ and ‘done’: an act that both creates and recognises difference and relativity by saying ‘that was then’ and ‘this is now’.[5] This sense of relativity can be vertiginous, since to realise the specificity of one’s own moment can disrupt one’s sense of continuity with what has gone before. It can also be liberating: as Harari has argued, historical awareness can “free” us “of the past” and enable us to “imagine alternative destinies.”[6]

The inherency of relativity and historicity in the discipline of history can be illustrated by considering cases such as the following. In 1902, Cambridge University Press published the monumental 13-volume Cambridge Modern History. Although its editors still shared Lord Acton’s aspiration to create definitive ‘ultimate’ history, Mandell Creighton (1843-1901), who was called upon to write an introductory note to the first volume, clearly had reservations about this notion.[7] History, Creighton argued, was constantly changing in a way that rendered the ideal of ‘ultimate history’ elusive and unattainable. Creighton identified a number of reasons for this, including changes in the present that alter the topics that historians wish to explore:

[The] continual increase of curiosity […] introduces a succession of new subjects for historical research. Documents once disregarded as unimportant are found to yield new information. […][8]

Not only did new enquiries increase the range of relevant documents, but the volume of documents themselves was “increasing […] year to year” and offering “a continual series of new suggestions” that “not only supplement what was known before, but frequently require […] a new presentation of the whole subject.”

Not only this, but, unlike the sciences where “the object of research is fixed and stable …[H]istory deals with a subject which is constantly varying in itself […]. [T]he present is always criticizing the past, and events which occur pass judgment on events which have occurred. Time is always revealing the weaknesses of past achievements, and suggesting doubts as to the methods by which they were won. Each generation, as it looks back, sees a change in perspective and cannot look with the same eyes as its predecessor”.[9]

Creighton’s observations show, first, that awareness of relativity and point of view are by no means postmodern perceptions – an observation that more recent scholars have ratified by showing that many of the radical insights often associated with the cultural ferment of the 1960s were present in equally radical form in the 1920s and earlier.[10]

Of course, Creighton’s text is not a postmodernist one – English Victorian Bishop-historians like Creighton had not encountered Saussurian or post-Saussurian linguistics, for example, let alone the events and intellectual currents of the long twentieth century. His text is also very much of its time, as we should, of course, expect. Creighton’s definition of modernity, for example, differs significantly from those that might now be offered in focusing, in a celebratory manner, on “the development of nationalities and the growth of individual freedom” and on discoveries and sea power.[11] This is a modernity without an economy or a ‘dark side’ and a long way from Giddens’ ‘juggernaut’.[12]

Virtuous Relativisms

The conclusion that I draw from this case is Creighton’s one, that all histories are relative to their times. This is a virtuous relativity, however, not a vicious one. Histories help individuals and groups grapple with the questions that matter to them in their presents – and it is in their presents that pasts exist for them. This is not to say that histories cannot yield answers and certainties. Once a question, a method, an archive and a theoretical framework have been chosen, better and worse answers can clearly be identified with high degrees of interpersonal agreement or objectivity. This is not to say, however, that the future will find the answers offered in our presents to be convincing or find the questions that present authors ask to be meaningful.

Ultimately, that does not matter: Because historians of the future have the same rights to cognitive self-determination as historians in the present: it is not our place to seek to define and constrain future possibilities.

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Further Reading

  • Bevernage, Berber. “From Philosophy of History to Philosophy of Historicities: Some Ideas on a Potential Future of Historical Theory.” BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review 127, no. 4 (2012): 113-120. http://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.8231 (last accessed on 13 February 2018).
  • Harré, Rom, and Michael Krausz. Varieties of Relativism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

Web Resources

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[1] F.R. Ankersmit, “Historiography and Postmodernism,” History and Theory 28, no. 2 (1989): 137.
[2] Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (London: Routledge, 1997), 18.
[3] Toby Young, Prisoners of The Blob: Why most education experts are wrong about nearly everything (London: Civitas, 2014), 3-4. Retrieved from http://www.civitas.org.uk/publications/prisoners-of-the-blob/ (last accessed on 13 February 2018).
[4] Rom Harré and Michael Krausz, Varieties of Relativism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).
[5] Berber Bevernage and Chris Lorenz, eds., Breaking up Time: Negotiating the borders between present, past and future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).
[6] Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow (London: Vintage, 2017), 74.
[7] A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothero and Stanley Leathers, eds., The Cambridge Modern History: Volume I, The Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), vi.
[8] Mandell Creighton, “Introductory Note,” in The Cambridge Modern History: Volume I, The Renaissance, eds. A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothero and Stanley Leathers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), 4.
[9] Ibid. 4-5.
[10] Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
[11] Creighton, “Introductory Note,” 3.
[12] Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).

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Image Credits

Old and new © Arthur Chapman 2018.

Recommended Citation

Chapman, Arthur: All Change? Relativity, Historicity and Historical Studies. In: Public History Weekly 6 (2018) 9, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2018-11398.

Editorial Responsibility

Judith Breitfuß / Thomas Hellmuth

Copyright (c) 2018 by De Gruyter Oldenbourg and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact: elise.wintz (at) degruyter.com.

Es ist paradox, dass in der geisteswissenschaftlichen Forschung der Anstieg an Aktivitäten, der eigentlich zur Konsolidierung von Wissen führen sollte, stattdessen oft eine Multiplizierung von Ansätzen und Perspektiven hervorruft.[1] Ist die Geschichte daher inhärent relativistisch, so dass die Anzahl der verschiedenen Geschichtsversionen mit der Zahl der AutorInnen wächst? Wenn dies der Fall ist – welche Auswirkungen hätte das?

Relativität

Das Spektrum des Relativismus wird in geisteswissenschaftlichen und bildungsbezogenen Debatten oft evoziert. Die Idee, dass seit den 1960er Jahren verantwortungslose und relativistische WissenschaftlerInnen die Tradition verraten und die Gedanken junger Leute verdorben haben, wurde zu einem Klischee neo-traditioneller Polemik. Eine ähnliche Geschichte, jedoch mit einer gegensätzlichen und positiven Evaluierung, kommt in manchen postmodernen Narrationen vom Ende der Meistererzählungen vor. In diesen Geschichten vom Aufstieg des Relativismus siegen “dekonstruktivistische” Erzählungen, die schließlich die naive “rekonstruktivistische […] empirische Tradition [ersetzen], die seit dem neunzehnten Jahrhundert weitergegeben wurde”.[2]

Paradoxerweise wird der Relativismus oft auf eine absolutistische Art und Weise präsentiert, so als ob nichts stimmen dürfte und alles bezweifelt werden müsste, außer dem Zweifel selbst:

“An britischen und amerikanischen Universitäten, wo angehende LehrerInnen ihr Handwerk erlernen, […] wird der epistemologische Relativismus die Lehrmeinung. In der Tat ist die generelle Skepsis über den Wert des Wissens – insbesondere des traditionellen Fachwissens – ubiquitär, sodass der altmodische Ansatz zur Bildung […] fast keine VerfechterInnen mehr hat.”[3]

Natürlich muss der Relativismus nicht als absolutes Konzept begriffen werden. Es gibt zahlreiche “Varianten des Relativismus”, und die Ansicht, dass Behauptungen relativ sind zu den Fragen, die sie beantworten, bedeutet nicht automatisch, dass Aussagen niemals valide sind oder dass “alles erlaubt ist”, da die Frage-Relativität wertende Rationalität nicht ausschließt.[4]

Historizität

Ungeachtet einiger neo-traditioneller, modernistischer und postmoderner Erzählungen war eine gewisse Art von Relativität in der Geschichtsdisziplin beinahe so lange, wie diese selbst existiert hat, inhärent: eine Relativität eng verbunden mit der Historizität. Für Ranke sollte die Vergangenheit unter ihren eigenen Bedingungen verstanden werden, und das Studium der Vergangenheit – wie Bevernage und andere vorgeschlagen haben – impliziert einen performativen Akt des “in die Vergangenheit Setzens” oder das Deklarieren einer “vergangenen” und “abgeschlossenen” Handlung: ein Vorgang, der Unstimmigkeit und Relativität sowohl kreiert als auch anerkennt, indem zwischen “das war damals” und “das ist heute” unterschieden wird.[5] Da die festgestellte Spezifität eines individuellen Moments das eigene Kontinuitätsgefühl in Bezug auf das, was in der Vergangenheit passierte, stören kann, kann diese Vorstellung von Relativität schwindelerregend sein. Sie kann aber auch befreiend sein: Laut Harari kann uns historisches Bewusstsein “von der Vergangenheit befreien” und uns “die Vorstellung alternativer Schicksale” ermöglichen.[6]

Die Inhärenz der Relativität und Historizität in der Disziplin Geschichte kann durch folgendes Beispiel illustriert werden: 1902 publizierte die Cambridge University Press die imposante dreizehnbändige Cambridge Modern History. Obwohl die Herausgeber immer noch Lord Actons Bestreben, eine definitive “ultimative” Geschichte zu kreieren, teilten, hatte Mandell Creighton (1843-1901), der gebeten wurde, die Einleitung zum ersten Band zu verfassen, diesbezüglich eindeutige Bedenken.[7] Creighton argumentierte, dass sich die Geschichte ständig verändert, sodass das Ideal einer “ultimativen Geschichte” flüchtig und unerreichbar erscheint. Hierfür nannte Creighton mehrere Gründe, welche Veränderungen in der Gegenwart, die beliebte Forschungsthemen von HistorikerInnen modifizieren, inkludieren:

“[Die] stete Zunahme an Wissbegierde […] eröffnet für die Geschichtsforschung eine Reihe neuer Themen. Einst unbeachtete und unwichtige Dokumente liefern heute neue Erkenntnisse.”[8]

Das Spektrum relevanter Dokumente wurde nicht nur durch die neuen Fragestellungen erweitert, sondern die Menge der Dokumente selbst “stieg […] von Jahr zu Jahr” und bot “eine stete Serie an neuen Vorschlägen”, die “nicht nur schon bekanntes Wissen ergänzt, sondern oft […] eine neue Präsentation des gesamten Themas benötigt”.

Nicht nur das, sondern im Gegensatz zu den Wissenschaften, bei denen “das Forschungsobjekt befestigt und stabil ist, [befasst sich] Geschichte […] mit einem Fachgebiet, das sich ständig selbst verändert. […] [D]ie Gegenwart kritisiert immer die Vergangenheit, und gerade stattfindende Ereignisse fällen ein Urteil über vergangene Ereignisse. Die Zeit enthüllt immer die Schwächen vergangener Erfolge und zweifelt an den Methoden, wie diese erreicht wurden. Rückwirkend betrachtet nimmt jede Generation die Dinge anders als ihre Vorgängerin wahr.”[9]

Creightons Beobachtungen zeigen primär, dass die Erkenntnis der Relativität und Perspektivität keinesfalls postmoderne Wahrnehmungen sind – eine Beobachtung, die WissenschaftlerInnen in jüngster Zeit bestätigt haben, indem sie zeigten, dass viele der radikalen Einsichten, die oft mit dem kulturellen Ferment der 1960er-Jahre in Verbindung gebracht werden, in einer genauso radikalen Form bereits in den 1920er Jahren und sogar schon früher vertreten waren.[10]

Natürlich ist der Text von Creighton nicht postmodern – englische viktorianische Bischofs-Historiker wie Creighton waren zum Beispiel weder der saussuristischen noch der post-saussuristischen Linguistik begegnet, geschweige denn den Ereignissen und intellektuellen Strömungen des langen zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Zudem ist sein Text zweifellos ein Produkt seiner Zeit, was wir natürlich auch erwarten sollten. Beispielsweise unterscheidet sich Creightons Definition der Moderne deutlich von jenen, die heute geläufig sind, indem er einen positiven und feierlichen Fokus auf “die Entwicklung von Nationalitäten und individueller Freiheit” sowie auf Entdeckungen und die Seemacht legt.[11] Das ist eine Moderne ohne Wirtschaftlichkeit oder ohne eine “dunkle Seite” und weit entfernt von Giddens “Juggernaut”.[12]

Tugendhafte Relativismen

Mein Fazit dieses Falls teile ich mit Creighton, das heißt alle Geschichten sind relativ zu ihren Zeiten. Das ist jedoch eine tugendhafte Relativität, keine lasterhafte. Geschichten helfen Individuen und Gruppen dabei, sich mit jenen Fragen auseinanderzusetzen, die ihnen in ihren Gegenwarten wichtig sind – und in ihren Gegenwarten existieren für sie die Vergangenheiten. Das bedeutet nicht, dass Geschichten keine Antworten und Gewissheiten liefern können. Sobald eine Frage, eine Methode, ein Archiv und ein theoretisches Gerüst ausgewählt wurden, können bessere und schlechtere Antworten deutlich und mit einem hohen Maß an zwischenmenschlicher Übereinstimmung und Objektivität identifiziert werden. Das bedeutet allerdings nicht, dass zukünftige Generationen die in unseren Gegenwarten angebotenen Antworten überzeugend oder die von gegenwärtigen AutorInnen gestellten Fragen aussagekräftig finden werden.

Letztlich ist das von Bedeutung: Künftige HistorikerInnen haben die gleichen Rechte auf kognitive Selbstbestimmung wie gegenwärtige. Es obliegt uns nicht, künftige Möglichkeiten zu definieren und einzuschränken.

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Literaturhinweise

  • Bevernage, Berber. “From Philosophy of History to Philosophy of Historicities. Some Ideas on a Potential Future of Historical Theory.” BMGN – Low Countries Historical Review 127, Nr. 4 (2012): 113-120. http://doi.org/10.18352/bmgn-lchr.8231 (letzter Zugriff am 13.02.2018).
  • Harré, Rom, und Michael Krausz. Varieties of Relativism. Oxford: Blackwell, 1996.

Webressourcen

  • Imre, Robert. “Heidegger, Historizität und die Schwarzen Hefte.” Public History Weekly 3, Nr. 23 (2015). http://doi.org/10.1515/phw-2015-4357 (letzter Zugriff am 13.02.2018).

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[1] F.R. Ankersmit, “Historiography and Postmodernism,” History and Theory 28, Nr. 2 (1989): 137.
[2] Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History (London: Routledge, 1997), 18.
[3] Toby Young, Prisoners of The Blob. Why most education experts are wrong about nearly everything (London: Civitas, 2014), 3-4. Aus http://www.civitas.org.uk/publications/prisoners-of-the-blob/ (letzter Zugriff am 13.02.2018).
[4] Rom Harré und Michael Krausz, Varieties of Relativism (Oxford: Blackwell, 1996).
[5] Berber Bevernage und Chris Lorenz, Hrsg., Breaking up Time. Negotiating the borders between present, past and future (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013).
[6] Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus. A Brief History of Tomorrow (London: Vintage, 2017), 74.
[7] A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothero und Stanley Leathers, Hrsg., The Cambridge Modern History. Volume I, The Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), vi.
[8] Mandell Creighton, “Introductory Note,” in The Cambridge Modern History. Volume I, The Renaissance, Hrsg. A.W. Ward, G.W. Prothero und Stanley Leathers (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1902), 4.
[9] Ebd. 4-5.
[10] Peter Novick, That Noble Dream. The ‘Objectivity Question’ and the American Historical Profession (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).
[11] Creighton, “Introductory Note,” 3.
[12] Anthony Giddens, The Consequences of Modernity (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990).

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Abbildungsnachweis

Alt und neu © Arthur Chapman 2018.

Empfohlene Zitierweise

Chapman, Arthur: Alles anders? Relativität, Historizität und historische Studien. In: Public History Weekly 6 (2018) 9, DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2018-11398.

Translated by Stefanie Svacina and Paul Jones (paul.stefanie@outlook.at)

Redaktionelle Verantwortung

Judith Breitfuß / Thomas Hellmuth

Copyright (c) 2018 by De Gruyter Oldenbourg and the author, all rights reserved. This work may be copied and redistributed for non-commercial, educational purposes, if permission is granted by the author and usage right holders. For permission please contact: elise.wintz (at) degruyter.com.


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DOI: dx.doi.org/10.1515/phw-2018-11398

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3 replies »

  1. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the wonderful automatic DeepL-Translator.

    Chapman’s article is a timely reminder about the provisional nature of knowledge formed in disciplines, given that the role of knowledge in school curricula is currently being widely debated in England. Chapman is surely right that no future historian should be bound by the conclusions reached in the past: new sources, or the development of new theoretical frameworks for making sense of those sources, will always require historians to exercise a degree of intellectual humility: the interpretations I produce today may well be overturned in the future.

    The point I would want to pick up, however, is the extent to which historians have ‘cognitive self-determination’. It is I think an obvious point that we do not arrive to the discipline of history with a tabula rasa: we carry with us a complex set of assumptions and experiences that cause us to make sense of the discipline and the past in the way that we do. If cognitive psychology has taught us anything in education in recent years, then it is that we think with what we already know.

    One of the things we know as historians is the interpretations reached by those who came before us. Those interpretations shape how we approach our study of the past in the present. In this sense, we become part of an ongoing conversation within the practice of the discipline of history. Within any practice, Alasdair MacIntyre argued, there are certain standards to which one who is involved in that practice must be held and hold others. It is a precondition of participation that one recognises that these standards exist.

    “A practice involves standards of excellence and obedience to rules as well as the achievement of goods. To enter into a practice is to accept the authority of those standards and the inadequacy of my own performance as judged by them […] [T]he standards are not themselves immune from criticism, but nonetheless we cannot be initiated into a practice without accepting the authority of the best standards realised so far”.[1]

    In order to modify the standards, therefore, it is first necessary to climb inside the practice as it currently exists, and to modify it from within. This has certain implications for what it might mean to learn a practice such as the academic discipline of history.

    “To enter into a practice is to enter into a relationship not only with its contemporary practitioners, but also with those who have preceded us in the practice, particularly those whose achievements extended the reach of the practice to its present point. It is thus the achievement and a fortiori the authority, of a tradition which I then confront and from which I have to learn.[2]

    Where does this leave us in terms of the role of relativism in history education? My reading of MacIntyre here would suggest that learning history involves the study of the tradition of the discipline: what others have said, and the grounds on which they said this. Our starting point – as pupils of the school subject and as initiates in the discipline – should be one of cautious respect for past interpretations, for it is these that have ‘extended the reach of the practice to its present point’. In short, we think as historians using the knowledge (both of the past and of the discipline) that has been produced in the discipline by those who went before us. In the disciplinary sense as much as the substantive, we are walking backwards into tomorrow.

    So, to return to Chapman’s conclusion, it is surely right that each successive generation of historians has cognitive self-determination. But cognition does not take place in a vacuum. I am therefore not sure it is possible, or even desirable, to avoid a situation in which historians of the future have their possibilities in some sense defined and constrained by those who came before them.

    Footnotes
    [1] Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (London: Bloomsbury, 2013) 221.
    [2] Ibid. 226.

  2. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the wonderful automatic DeepL-Translator.

    I am with you on this issue Arthur Chapman. I think it is neither possible, nor desirable, to constrain the histories that will appear after our time. It is also important that we do recognise different relativisms. This is a great point. Many of the critiques of postmodernism are actually attacks on a specific type of relativism. One can certainly find examples of an uncritical relativist position, that through a kind of exaggerated political correctness, fail to discriminate or pass judgement on rival histories of the same past.

    However, it is certainly possible to take a critical pluralist stance, which is the position upon which my own work rests. I would define this position as one in which the emergence of multiple narratives is understood as an inevitable historical reality.

    However, from a critical pluralist position, these historical narratives need not be of equal merit. Thus, it is possible to accept the existence of multiple narratives, while still maintaining a position that is critical of some. Like all good science, I should be able to look at the methodologies and methods you used to arrive at your explanation, and the sources you drew upon, and reach similar conclusions … or at least see how you arrived at your conclusions.

    If I cannot, then I should be skeptical of your claims. Such a position should make us sensitive to the historiographic methods we mobilise, and the historicity of our own perspectives (and scholarship). I would argue that helping pre-service History teachers, and others involved in public history such as tour guides, museum educators, etc. recognise the historicity of the narratives they share, is an important pedagogical / public history virtue.

  3. To all our non-English speaking readers we recommend the wonderful automatic DeepL-Translator.

    This is an important contribution. I’d like to take a somewhat different perspective to it, though.

    I do think there necessarily is more than just temporal relativity to history, more that just new knowledge, new perspectives and new interpretation coming up, but also those of difference is our perspectives, that is social, cultural and other positions in society and the needs for reflecting our identities and our possibilities which partly come with them, and partly are our individual own.
    In a certain sense, we can only recognize a history as “ours”, as relating to us, when we recognize differences to others, their views, interpretations and the conclusions they draw from them. So it becomes part of our “own” history to know about “other” histories on the same event. But this requires to acknowledge diversity and a certain relativity of histories. But on the other hand, and it precludes that kind of relativity which amounts to arbitrariness, to the rejection of any grounds of interpersonal agreement. So relativity is about diversity, not about arbitrariness.

    One might even ask whether the notion that is not so much the point of histories being relative, which needs reasoning and justification, but any claim of a history being common and exerting a certain power of obligation to more than the individual which created it. Of course there are aspects of history and histories which can be more easily agreed upon, but even the mere enumeration of facts, the naming of information, must necessarily refer to language (concepts, terminology), which is not just be taken for common, for it may have different connotations etc. It will be even more the case for conclusions, interpretations and judgements involving concepts etc.

    This is not new. It is part of history not only as a cultural practice, but an academic venture, to not just postulate it being “true” and common, but to substantiate the claims of intersubjective acceptability. It is not whether, in whar way and to what degree history “is” or “can be” relative, but what consequences should be drawn from the ineluctable insight into its relative relativity.

    On this ground, I would like to challenge Michael Fordham’s view that you have to “climb inside the practice as it currently exists” in order to change standards and practices. Of course it is useful to have been “inside” the tradition, and to know all the developed standards. But I don’t think it is necessary. It should be perfectly possible to recognize that standards upheld by some social and scientific practice may be high, but that they maybe do lack some aspects which is of importance for your own perspective. If we only could (or should) challenge procedures and standards from within, we could only update and modify the tradition, but never really challenge it for its blind spots, from dnew points of view, etc.

    There is a lot to be said about “cautious respect for past interpretations” which have “extended the reach of the practice to its present point”, as Michael points out. But to make this obligatory would deny students/people to realize their own needs for temporal orientation, voice their own questions, in the first place. Of course it would be wrong to just leave them with their own efforts and not to introduce them to a wealth of already constructed knowledge, concepts, and methods, but to me that would either be the second step of both of them – inviting and empowering people to identify their own perspectives and introducing them to culturally developed knowledge, need to go hand in hand.

    This seems to be a difference in a stance to education not only with regard to history.

    (a) Is it about introducing the members of the young generation to our own standards of perceiving the world, presenting them with a platform of knowledge which we and they should perceive as firm and stable, so that they can “go on” from there?

    (b) or do we rather perceive our own activities of researching the world, of identifying and solving problems, of producing knowledge, as limited efforts, and would we rather enable the young generation to develop their own prospect of the world, of its problems and of possible solutions?

    The latter stance also calls upon us to present the young generations (or all learners, for that matter) with our knowledge, our perceptions of the world, of the tradition of research – but in order to make it obligatory as a firm platform, but in order for the young (and future) inhabitants to reflect on its limits and problems as well as on its values. Teaching not as an effort to prolong a heroic tradition, but an effort to enable and empower learners to construct their own views of the world (and the past), to identify tasks and problems not only where the older generations have left them, but also in the older generations’ efforts etc.

    It is this second stance to education and teaching, which in my view is especially apt for “post-traditional” societies, in which we do not only have one tradition present and available, but several of them – partly due to our own historical research and scope, and in part to cultural and social diversity, which we cannot just overrule.[1]

    Based on the second stance I would argue that in (post?)modern, post-traditional societies, it is a task for history education to enable learners to actively and passively participate in the constant negotiation and production of not one single (“non-relativistic”), but rather a complex of “inter-compatible” histories, of complexes of substantive information, substantive concepts, second order concepts, criteria for plausibility etc., which are not just treated (presented) as “given”, but rather as limited (perspectival) interpretations, suggestions etc. It should be a goal of history education to empower people to “cope” with the inevitable “degree of” relativity of history, and to acknowledge multiple perspectives, rather than to try to convince…

    Footnotes
    [1] Renate Girmes, ed., Sich zeigen und die Welt zeigen. Bildung und Erziehung in posttraditionalen Gesellschaften (Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 1997).

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