Easing the Burden of History: Reflections of an Interloper -web lecture and discussion

Thursday, May 13, 2021

Zoom seminar [link to seminar pass: 947787] 19:00-21:00 (UTC+3), which is 09:00-11:00 PDT (UTC-7), which in turn should be about 16:00-18:00 GMT (UTC+0, except that the people living in the vicinity of Greenwich are currently in summertime so they are using UTC+1 time, so for them the event is actually 17:00-19:00) that converts into something like 18:00-20:00 CEST (UTC+2)

Professor Paul A. Roth (University of California Santa Cruz) discusses "Easing the Burden of History: Reflections of an Interloper"



In “The Burden of History” Hayden White famously voices his observation regarding “historian's bad faith in claiming the privileges of both the artist and the scientist while refusing to submit to critical standards currently obtaining in either art or science.” Yet in framing his charge in existential terms—‘bad ‘faith’ because refusing to openly identify as either art or science—White signals the he anyway understands the only authentic response to be one that embraces the doing of history as a type of moral choice. As he eloquently maintains, he conceives of the “historical imagination as a faculty which, beginning in man's impulse to clothe the chaos of the phenomenal world in stable images, that is, in an aesthetic impulse, discharged itself in a tragic reaffirmation of the fundamental fact of change and process, providing thereby a ground for the celebration of man's responsibility for his own fate.” White that is derives the burden of history as a consequence of a forced choice between, on the one hand, non-cognitive moral or aesthetic standards and, on the other hand, standards dictated by a philosophy of science which could never be fit to historical practice. Such reasoning effectively entails the narrativist turn in historiography, one in which epistemic considerations proved conspicuous only by their absence. Some recent work, however, attempts to ease the burden so imagined by finding a way to accommodate both White’s existential positioning of historians and a concern for epistemic norms. As an advocate of this particular reconfiguring of the historiographic debate, I reflect below on how a philosophical interloper such as myself addresses the Whitean burden, and how my particular effort has been challenged and critiqued by a other interested parties—John Zammito (an intellectual historian), Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen and Jonathan Gorman (philosophical interlopers like me), and Frank Ankersmit (a long-time writer on theory of history).

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Last updated: 10.5.2021