Historiographical Presentism in Stavanger

Georg Gangl (Centre for Philosophical Studies of History, University of Oulu, Finland)

Monday, 27.05, University of Stavanger, Hulda Garborgs Hus, R-354, 13-14h

Centre for Philosophical Studies of History's own Georg Gangl is on a research stay at the University of Stavanger and is giving a presention Monday May 27th titled "Historiographical Presentism" (abstract below).



"Historians aim to say true things about the past. At the same time, they necessarily occupy a position in their own present which characterizes their perspective on the past as hindsight. It is not clear at the outset whether hindsight functions more like a smokescreen or like a mountaintop perspective that helps us to get the past into better view. The misleading and skewing effects of hindsight have traditionally been discussed in historiography under the headers of anachronism and Whiggism, and a general doubt about our capabilities to zoom in onto the past has in recent decades been formulated by narrativism and postmodernism.

Anachronism and Whiggism are forms of epistemic and ontological presentism; that is of concepts and understandings that owe to the historians present and could not have been formed in the past itself. In the case of anachronism at least, it is not clear that such concepts are always epistemically vicious. The talk will give an overview over different forms of presentism in historiography—ontological, epistemic, and pragmatic—and assess them according their conduciveness for establishing knowledge of the past. While some forms of presentism are actually conducive to our goal of producing knowledge about the past, others are corrosive of it; with the rest being epistemically inert or innocuous. In any case, presentism in general is not as detrimental for producing knowledge about the past as has been argued by some in the philosophy of history.”

Last updated: 23.5.2019