Facing the Music.

Philosophical and theoretical engagements with history, historiography, and other ways of relating to the past go by many names, the newest suggestion in this respect being “theory of history polyphonic” (Kleinberg 2021). Other noteworthy monikers of

Philosophical and theoretical engagements with history, historiography, and other ways of relating to the past go by many names, the newest suggestion in this respect being “theory of history polyphonic” (Kleinberg 2021). Other noteworthy monikers of recent years are “theory and philosophy of history” (Ohara 2021; Kuukkanen 2014), though Ohara adds “broad and inclusive” to his version, “historical theory” (Paul 2015), and “philosophy of historicities” (Bevernage 2012). Further is there “philosophy of historiography” (Tucker 2001), “history and philosophy of history (HPH)” (Paul 2020), and “philosophy of the historical sciences” (Currie 2018). And we might also want to mention adjacent burgeoning fields such as the “sociology of historiography” (Kainulainen/Puurtinen/Chin 2019) and the “anthropology of historical scholarship” (Tollebeek 2008) here. This list is not intended to be exhaustive.

Kleinberg’s and Ohara’s suggestions, the newest additions to the potpourri of names and concepts, have been made on the new collaborative blogging platform “Theory of History at Work”, which publishes new articles on philosophical and theoretical questions surrounding history and historiography every week, with Kleinberg’s text being the inaugural post of the whole platform.1 Add to this recent summatory publications on these subjects such as Berger et. al (2021), van den Akker (2022), and Kuukkanen (2020), and you might think all is well in the field. Actually, on one level I do think this is correct, on another it might not. As Aviezer Tucker already remarked now 20 years ago: “the actual (booming) research, publishing, and demand for reading in the field” (Tucker 2001: 39) contrasts sharply with its “diffused weak academic status” (Tucker 2001: 37).

Yet, even beyond unnerving institutional issues, there is something troublesome about the conceptual and semantic muddle of the many different namings for the field. Lexical and conceptual ambiguities often lead to unwelcome consequences up to failures or the breakdown of communication. In the situation as it currently stands, real disagreement might be hidden behind the same term or conversely pseudo-disagreement created due to a misunderstanding of terms owing to differing or inconsistent use. Given the lack of institutionalization, most philosophers and theorists of history also hail by necessity from numerous different disciplines and intellectual schools (Kuukkanen 2014: 614), which potentially impedes communication even more. So, for the sake of the advancement of the field intellectually and institutionally, I think a more streamlined terminology, a shared approach, and a common understanding of the main issues at stake is desirable.

I think all the authors mentioned so far, myself included, would agree that we need philosophical and theoretical engagement with history and historiography. The question is, “What should this engagement (primarily) consist in and how should it be done?” Kleinberg and Ohara have given one specific answer recently on the new blog despite their difference in naming. (Kleinberg speaks of “theory of history polyphonic” and Ohara of “theory and philosophy of history”.) I believe their account is in a certain sense too narrow by discounting much of disciplinary historiography, despite the insistence on “polyphony” (Kleinberg) and on being a “broad and inclusive” (Ohara) approach. My contender for a field would be, following Aviezer Tucker, “philosophy of historiography”, in the mode of Paul’s HPH and broadly consistent with a more general “philosophy of the historical sciences” though. Kleinberg’s and Ohara’s concerns belong properly construed to the broader area of a philosophy of historical culture, to our efforts to discern and describe the different “past-relationships” (Grever/Addriansen 2017: 83) a society forms. Historiography is obviously not the only form in which people relate to the past.

In what follows, I will first outline and critique Kleinberg’s and Ohara’s conception of theory and philosophy of history before coming to my own programme for a philosophy of historiography. I will end with some more tentative remarks on the relationship between the philosophy of historiography, theory of history polyphonic, and historical culture in general, as it is in (historical) culture where they all meet.

Dulled Polyphony

For Kleinberg, theory of history needs to be polyphonic because “the past itself is polysemic” which means that there are “multiple pasts that haunt our present” (I.1).2 This means that there are always “multiple iterations” (I.3) of the past to which people working on history should be attuned to. From that also follows that theory of history should be multiple, focusing on engagements with the past that go beyond disciplinary historiography (I.6), thereby enabling scholars to listen to said “multiple possible pasts, rather than disciplining them into history of a single note” (IV.8). Kleinberg wants such theory to be understood as a “meta-language” (I.5) for the whole range of engagements with the multiple “pasts” and he wishes everyone who works on the past to be trained in such theory of history (IV.4).

Now, I take Kleinberg’s suggestion to consist of an ontological, a perspectival, and an institutional element. The ontological issue is central and claims that the past itself is “polysemic” and therefore multiple. As such these “multiple pasts” “haunt our present” which I take to be the relation that the past maintains to the present. I would like to call this ontological position of Kleinberg’s hauntological ontological pluralism. Kleinberg doesn’t tell us, though, of what stuff these multiple and haunting pasts are made of. Ohara, who agrees with Kleinberg on this approach to history and its theory, adds that this ontological position stands against the “ontological realism” (Ohara 2021) of much of disciplinary historiography.3 The purported multiplicity of the past forces us to widen our perspective and turn “theory of history” multiple too, or in Kleinberg’s preferred musical imagery, to make theory “polyphonic”. This is all we hear from Kleinberg about what polyphonic theory of history is. He gives no examples whatsoever of any polyphonic engagements with the past, or of a historiography that would follow his precepts. The highly metaphorical language of the whole text centered around the musical concept of polyphony does not add to understanding either here.

What Kleinberg is clear and quite forceful about is what is in his regard not polyphonic: disciplinary historiography and “historical theory”. “Disciplinary history” is “monophonic” (II.1), he declares apodictically. Historiography is based on “historical conceits” (II.2) (the conceits of “ontological realism”, potentially among other things, I presume), and on a “cohesive but monophonic methodological or disciplinary whole” (II.7). This methodology is further “superior compared to those that preceded it, solely based on its moment in time“ (II.3.) which of course means it is not superior at all in Kleinberg’s eyes. As a result of the “conceit” and the “established and accepted norms of historical discourse” (II.2), historians are “trained to hear less” (II.7) and they write “restrained, purged, or flat conventional history” (IV.1). To add insult to injury, they also “assume that things could not have been otherwise, any other way” (II.4), and therefore the discipline serves “as an anesthetic” (IV.3). While Kleinberg seems to damn the whole discipline, Ohara offers a differentiation. For him, “[h]istories written from feminist, post- or decolonial, and racial-critical perspectives are powerful examples of the kind of polyphonic historical understanding about which Ethan Kleinberg invites us to think”, whereas “global, big and deep histories” (Ohara 2021) are not.4 As to “historical theory”, he consigns this field to “monophonic history” as well (III.2). The mere use of the term “ensures that it is history and historians who dictate what is acceptable as theory”. And with that, theoretical engagement with history becomes “a question of power” (III.2) Kleinberg proclaims in quasi-Nietzschean fashion. (See also thesis III.5 on this.)

Polyphony on one side, uniformity on the other if we can believe Kleinberg’s characterization. It is baffling to me how Kleinberg can come to the suggestion that “historical theory” is something that historians “dictate” and that it is a question of power or might that they can do so, given that the main proponent in our discussions on the term is Herman Paul (2015) who shares Kleinberg’s concern that “historical theory” should be attuned to the many different relations people maintain with the past (though without damning disciplinary historiography wholesale) (Paul 2015: 3). I suspect some obscure conflict with historians within US-academia to stand behind this characterization, but this should not concern us any further here (a similar conflict is palpable in Kleinberg’s last set of theses, see Gangl 2018).5

In other words, what Kleinberg seems to be griping about is that historians do not share in his hauntological ontological pluralism, their “historical conceit”, and that they have accepted certain methodological norms with which they go about their task of scrutinizing the past. He also assumes that this makes historians unable to recognize that history could have been different, which turns historiography into a (political and ethical) “anesthetic”. As for the ontological question, what would speak for Kleinberg’s “hauntological” approach in historiography and perhaps even beyond? His theses do not tell, not in the slightest. Likewise, that the methodological core that many historians and Kleinberg assume that there is, was not justified at all, is a pretty bold claim (for such justifications, see for instance Tucker 2004: 92-141; Tosh 2002: 54-108; Jardine 2000: 77-146). One might disagree with those justifications of course, but for that they would need to be acknowledged in the first place. It also seems unfair to historians to call their work an “anesthetic”. Historians hold a great variety of political beliefs, some of them probably close to Kleinberg’s own ethical and political positions, and historiographical works can have, and many historians think they also should have, a political and societal impact (Gangl forthcoming). They obviously also know that the past could have been different, as most of them tirelessly say on nearly every public platform they can get and, more theoretically speaking, counterfactual thinking is a common feature of historiographical research heuristics (Virmajoki 2018).

All the talk of a “theory of history polyphonic” that wants to draw our attention to other forms of relating to the past ironically drowns out the complexity and potential heterogeneity of actual theory use in historiography, and it paints the discipline in an unnecessarily monolithic way (or it gives a very “monophonic” tune of it). Take as an example the text of the historian Uwe Walter (Walter 2021), also published on the platform “Theory of History at Work” only a few posts after Kleinberg’s inaugurating theses. Walter gives the example of “Monumenta medievalists or historians of diplomacy and editors who immerse themselves in the files” (Walter 2021) who arguably use different theories than historians of the Late Devonian extinction or historians of race relations. Now, that does not mean that they might not also share a core of theories and principles together, say about the assessment of evidence, but these are all questions that should be answered by a theory of history, or as I will argue in the next section by a philosophy of historiography properly attuned to the actual and diverse melodies of historiography. They shouldn’t be preempted by claiming that all of historiography is alike “monophonic” in its theories and methods and that those theories and methods have no justification or value in themselves. As I see it, there are several different notions of “historical theories” (or “theories of history”) involved in this discussion: a) what Kleinberg and Ohara understand as theory of history, which is something else than actual theory use in historiography; b) the conceptions historians phenomenologically have about the theories they use in their practice; c) the theories that are actually relevant in that practice (which they might or might not identify correctly, meaning b) and c) can come apart, see Tucker 2004: 3); d) general worldviews or philosophies they might hold such as historicism or realism. As I see it, Kleinberg and Ohara would like for a) to have a wider following in historiography based on a very specific theory of the type d), i.e., “hauntological ontological pluralism”. In this endeavour, they seriously and unnecessarily homogenize the understanding and use of theory by historians, that is b) and c).

In a sense, it is Kleinberg’s and Ohara’s accounts that are “monophonic” when it comes to actual historiography, its practices and theories. What other than their alleged “ontological pluralism” makes “feminist, post- or decolonial, and racial-critical” approaches in historiography “polyphonic”, and thereby good historiography I presume, and “global, deep, and big histories” monophonic enterprises based on “conceits”? Likewise, what about historiographical accounts that draw on, say, “genetics, climate history, and cognitive science” (Tortarolo 2021), theories that arguably play a role in big and deep histories, and which the historian Edoardo Tortarolo recommends to “be integrated into historical practice” (Tortarolo 2021) in another post on “Theory of History at Work”? None of these theories is in any obvious way linked to Kleinberg’s hauntological ontological pluralism. Are they just further deafening us then? And why should historiography and historiographical theory use be measured by this externally adduced and on the face of it rather implausible standard of “ontological pluralism” for which Kleinberg gives no arguments whatsoever?

Now, I don’t want to argue for what Kleinberg and Ohara call rather simplistically “ontological realism” either here, though I think that they are right that most historians hold some form of realism about some parts of the past at least, and that even for good reasons I believe. What I would like to suggest here is a change of perspective towards historiography and its practices, beyond the caricature that Kleinberg offers us. Questions of realism and questions of differing theory use and methodologies are among those that can and should be answered by such an approach that would I call philosophy of historiography. By examining actual historiographical practices, texts, and debates.

History and Theory in the Key of the Philosophy of Historiography

Historiography is a well-developed science in the sense of set of social practices centered around the production of reasoned argument and reliable knowledge of the past, based on specific professional norms of research, education, and assessment (Kuukkanen 2014: 616). Lacking any direct access to or revelatory insight into the past in any substantive or theological sense, all we are left with are its traces in our present, which become evidence when properly accounted for, with historiography exactly having developed and being centered around a warranted and responsible treatment of these traces as evidence (Tucker 2001: 48; Tucker 2004). In other words, historiography is the most reliable practice we have when we want to speak about the past truthfully and in a cognitively responsible fashion. How this goal is reached, or at times missed, via those practices should be the starting point for our philosophical reflections about our cognitive relationship to the past. What we need first and foremost is a philosophy of historiography as a “philosophy of that particular practice” (Kuukkanen 2014: 617) that is historiography as a well-structured and well-established science. Philosophy of historiography in this sense consists in the empirical examination of historiography in all its breadth, in its epistemology and ontology, its use of evidence and inference, its interpretations and explanations, its debates with their agreements and disagreements, its application of narrative and other forms or representation, but also its sociological character as a discipline. If these issues link up with other philosophical or theoretical problems and fields, great, but the starting point should be a thorough understanding of the (disciplinary) practices of historiography. The use of “historical theory” and realism-discussions are cases in point here. They should be approached first by an examination of how historians understand and use theories in their works and discussions and by looking at what stipulations they themselves make about entities existing or having existed in the past. As seen above, Kleinberg gives us instead an idiosyncratic picture of the (lack of) “polyphonic” theory in historiography that misses the practice and wealth of theory use in the discipline and he measures, or condemns, it by the external standard of hauntological ontological pluralism. This adduces external theories and philosophical positions with no discernible relation to the practice of the discipline to historiography. It is therefore also unclear how historiography can be of any help at all in Kleinberg’s quest for his ghostly ontology or for his “polyphonic” theory.6

Philosophy of historiography as I understand it is a subbranch of philosophy of science, in line with other metadisciplinary philosophical subjects that examine the practices of the different sciences, such as the philosophy of physics or the philosophy of paleontology, two fields that have gained a lot of traction in the last two decades or so (Kosso 1998; Currie 2018). In particular, the philosophy of historiography should follow the example of “integrated HPS” (Schickore 2018; McAllister 2018), integrated history and philosophy of science that is, and become HPH, “history and philosophy of history”, as recently advocated by Herman Paul (Paul 2020).7 Basing one’s philosophizing on the history and also the sociology of the discipline, next to its current state, bears many potential advantages for both historians and philosophers. (HPS also has a strong sociological component traditionally, even though the relation between sociological and philosophical approaches to science is not always without friction.) For one thing, in this setting the philosophy of historiography can model its theories and hypotheses on the actual historical record of the discipline, or at least test them against it. This would give the philosophical theories more historical depth and sensitivity and help to demarcate and strengthen their grand and not so grand claims. It might show a historical or current heterogeneity of historiography with respect to (some) theories or methodologies, or conversely, show a widely shared use of core methodologies and theories throughout at least some sub-fields, topics, or debates. It might also give us a map of issues on which historians are divided about, or have been divided about in the past, and how they overcame that division if they did. In short, it might show us how historians settle disputes epistemically and discursively, and under which conditions and influences they can or cannot do that. With such an approach, we would not just build philosophy on an empirical foundation we would also make sure that the issues and questions discussed are relevant to practicing historians and give them the “conceptual tools for reflection on their own practices” (Paul 2020: 171). A win-win situation potentially.

Of course, this says nothing about the actual mode and settings of cooperation between both fields. Reflecting on the history of the at times conflict-ridden interaction of the disciplines involved in HPS, which has famously been called a “marriage of convenience” and whose divorce has been declared on several occasions, Paul opts for the establishment of a “hermeneutic space” (Paul 2020: 168) between historiography and its philosophy. That is, a forum where “scholars encounter, try out, appropriate, reject, or otherwise engage with ideas, concepts, methodologies, and practices” (Paul 2020: 168) from the other field. The new blog project “Theory of History at Work” looks like a great place for getting started on this. Eventually some form of further institutionalization will also have to take place for long-lasting cooperation to be possible and for cumulative progress to have a chance to take hold. For this, more detailed philosophical research programmes and (funded) projects based on the practices of historiography and the problems the discipline faces will be needed, something that should come easy to philosophers working in the framework of the philosophy of historiography, even if getting the funding is anything but given the lack of institutional recognition for the philosophical examination of history and historiography in any form. What is not helpful here is indiscriminate “manifesting” and the strawmanning and antagonizing of a whole discipline.8

The Polyphony of Historical Culture

Let me end with a few words appreciative of what I think is the underlying impulse of Kleinberg’s newest set of theses. As is said in the beginning of this text, historiography is not the only way to relate to the past. Plus, as Paul also stresses, historiography itself maintains “multiple relations with its subject matter, including aesthetic, moral and political ones” (Paul 2020: 172, original emphasis). How these relations relate to historiography’s central epistemic goals is an open question for me. Here more substantive research in the key of the philosophy of historiography is very much needed. Beyond historiography with its strong focus on epistemic and cognitive issues, there is also a whole range of other “past-relationships” a society maintains, be they aesthetic, political, emotional, memorial, or otherwise, something that has been called “historical culture” and which has been extensively researched in the last decades (Rüsen 1994; Carretero/ Berger/ Grever 2018).

It would seem that Kleinberg wants to make these other relationships to the past heard as well (“polyphony”), with a philosophical position and in a form though, i.e. hauntological ontological pluralism and antagonizing and caricaturing “manifesting”, that goes at the expense of historiography and its central cognitive goals. This differentiates Kleinberg’s proposal from such as Herman Paul’s “historical theory” (Paul 2015) or Berber Bevernage’s “philosophy of historicities” (Bevernage 2012) which both also stress these other ways of relating to the past, yet without denigrating or caricaturizing historiography. “Philosophy of historiography” isn’t similarly abusive in any direction not covered by its interest either. Not just that there are aesthetic, political, and moral elements to historiography itself, as Paul emphasizes, that we know too little about, there is also no reason to deny any other aspect of historical culture. Real “polyphony” might actually only reign in “historical culture”, or there might just be, less optimistically, noise and a competition for who can shout the loudest. The question here is: How do historiography and other ways of relating to the past come together and how should they? Which status and significance should historiography and with it thinking about the past based on reliable methods and knowledge have in our society? And eventually: In what kind of society do we want to live?

Through its practices and established methods that furnish us with reliable knowledge, historiography can act as “large-scale regulatory instance and corrective” (Gangl forthcoming) in cognitive matters relating to the past; it can scrutinize and criticize the historical beliefs, arguments, and ideologies that are being held in society, in a way no other practice that we know of can. Now, we might say that we do not need or want such a corrective, that it is fundamentally repressive, and that we would live better and freer in a society where beliefs and arguments about the past go epistemically unchecked and are subjugated to whatever purposes those in power pursue (redemption, glory, race, utopia, to name a few that have been popular in the past). We might even be living in such a society, at least partially, in the digital age and the age of populism, identity politics, conspiracy theories, and post-truth. For these movements and ideologies, however, the past has not so much vanished as is it used and abused by them in simplistic and parochial ways for their own ideological purposes and facile self-legitimation. The same might be said about a lot of everyday thinking that is equally steeped in a past of its own making, though usually without the malintent of the ideologies. The past, in other words, remains central and contentious in our times, and society would be much poorer in its understanding of it without historiography and philosophy. When historiography and philosophy have had their say, many things about the past and many things that people hold dear about it will not have been answered. But their free say they should have, unbridled and unhindered by any external ideology or powers that be, in the hope of coming to a reasonable and reasonably well-argued future. Personally, I believe that the good life is also fundamentally dependent upon true beliefs about the past, and in this sense has all to gain from historiography, but this might be the déformation professionnelle of a philosopher.


Berger, S./ Bevernage, B./ Grever, M./ Loughran, T./ Wang, E. Q./ Williams, O. E. Bloomsbury History: Theory and Method, https://www.bloomsburyhistorytheorymethod.com/home (21.10.2021).

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Carretero, M./ Berger, S./ M. Grever (eds.) Palgrave Handbook in Historical Culture and Education. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

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Gangl, G. (2018) “Revolts, Revivals, and New Paths: Recent proposals for the development of philosophy of history”, https://www.oulu.fi/blogs/revolts (22.10.2021).

Gangl, G. (forthcoming) “Historia Magistra Vitae? The Role of Historiography in Culture and Politics” Faravid – Journal for Historical and Archaeological Studies.

Grever, M./Addriansen, R.-J. (2017) “Historical Culture: A Concept Revisited” In M. Carretero/ S. Berger/ M. Grever (eds.) Palgrave Handbook in Historical Culture and Education. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 73-91.

Jardine, N. (2000). Scenes of Inquiry. On the Reality of Questions in the Sciences. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Kainulainen, M./Puurtinen, M./Chinn, C. A. (2019) “Historians and conceptual change in history itself: The domain as a unit of analysis”, International Journal of Educational Research 98, 245-256.

Kosso, P. (1998) Appearance and Reality. An Introduction to the Philosophy of Physics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kleinberg, E. (2020) “Postmodern Theory with Historical Intent. A Deconstructive Approach to the Past” In J.-M. Kuukkanen (ed.) Philosophy of History. Twenty-First-Century Perspectives. London et al.: Bloomsbury Academic, 84-98.

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https://gtw.hypotheses.org/ (21.10.2021)

1See https://gtw.hypotheses.org/ (21.10.2021).

2Kleinberg has structured his text in form of theses, see: https://gtw.hypotheses.org/757 (5.11.2021). I give the individual thesis when quoting from it.

3I think it is fair to say that Kleinberg agrees with this, even if “ontological realism” does not appear in his current text. “Ontological realism” is one of the main villains in Kleinberg’s last set of theses though, the “Theses on Theory of History”, which he co-authored with Joan Wallach Scott and Gary Wilder (Kleinberg/Scott/Wilder 2020), and it also figures centrally and is criticized as a “quasi-theological notion” (Kleinberg 2020: 86) in another recent text of his. One conceptual point here: Kleinberg’s and Ohara’s ontological pluralism is a form of ontological realism too, as far as I can tell; it just assumes there to be multiple, “polysemic” pasts that haunt the present instead of there being one past that is linked to the present, say, causally. It doesn’t make much sense then to counterpose their position to “ontological realism” tout court. However, in a sense Kleinberg wants to have it both ways. He says that “the past, like a ghost, is both present and absent”, that it has “no ontological properties but nonetheless it is” (Kleinberg 2020: 88), with this line through the copula. At the same time, the past is for him also “a fluctuating bundle of physical and temporal contradictions” (Kleinberg 2020: 91) and has a “heterogeneous and chaotic nature” (Kleinberg 2020: 96). Now, either the past has some properties and characteristics that we can know about, such as being contradictory and heterogeneous in nature, as Kleinberg sometimes claims, or it has no ontological properties, and is in this sense ghost-like, as he claims at other times. But it can’t be both, as far as I can tell. Also, so as to be able to say anything at all about the past, we need to presuppose some form of epistemic realism about it, otherwise we would have to stay agnostic about its nature and could not say that it either was or was not of any kind (Kosso 1998: 15). Metaphilosophically, the issue is of course how to establish such most general characteristics of the past, especially when it comes to more fancy descriptions of it like being a “ghost” or a “bundle of physical and temporal contradictions” or as “is”. In Kleinberg’s account, we cannot know about these characteristics of the past via historiography itself, but what other evidence and sources do we have for such rather peculiar pronouncements about it that many people, historians or not, would not accept? For the details of this ontology of Kleinberg’s that is strongly influenced by Jacques Derrida’s philosophy, see Kleinberg 2020: 90-96.

4Again, since Kleinberg does not give any examples, we can’t be entirely sure that he agrees with this differentiation between “polyphonic” and “monophonic” approaches, especially as he applies his critique to all of “disciplinary history” (II.1). However, in his other set of theses Kleinberg does mention positively some of the supposedly “polyphonic” approaches listed by Ohara. Given what he says about the discipline of historiography as such, he probably also agrees with the negative assessment of “global, big and deep histories”.

5Quoting Hayden White, Kleinberg also gives us a grammatical argument for the superiority of the term “theory of history” over “historical theory”. According to Kleinberg, White often said (I was unable to find the quote in any writing of White’s): “[T]heory of history is a case of the objective genitive and has to do with the possession by ‘theory’ of whatever it is we mean by ‘history’ while ‘historical theory’ is an adjectival form that uses the subjective genitive: thus, it is ‘history’s theory’ or whatever it is that ‘history’ takes ‘theory’ to be that is the issue.” I don’t think the grammatical concepts of “objective” and “subjective genitive”, common in and well known from Latin, fit very well here. “Historical theory” is no genitive at all but a noun phrase with an adjective attribute, and the question entirely hinges on the meaning of “historical” in the discourse it is employed in, and eventually on use (“meaning is use”). “Theory of history” is a prepositional genitive construction that can be read as indicating “possession”, though in either direction, but possession is a grammatical term here. What is not licensed by this grammatical analysis or the grammatical notion of possession, however, is the conclusion that Kleinberg draws from it. Right after the quote he continues: “The seemingly innocuous substitution of terms actually determines whether it is theory that dictates reflection on what history is/can be or history that dictates what theory is or should be.” (III.1) No “dictating” in either direction is implied by either term here, it is still use in a broader context that is decisive, and of course nothing in this grammatical analysis indicates the power struggle that Kleinberg introduces into the choice between both terms either. Also, is it really Kleinberg’s understanding of the relation between “theory of history” and history that the former “dictates reflection on what history is/can be”? To such a dictatorship, I even prefer being haunted.

6One might level the same charge against me by saying that I externally adduce an “evidence-centered” account to historiography and that philosophy of historiography can and should proceed on the point alone that historiography is a specific set of practices whose workings and norms deserve further scrutiny, just like any other practice. (Why scrutinize that practice then, though, instead of any other?) I am happy to leave this point open for further debate under the condition that it should be approached through the perspective I advocate here, i.e., through a close philosophical examination of historiography itself. It is a fact though that many historians do believe there to be such a core methodology dealing with evidence around which the discipline revolves, and that there are justifications available for that methodology. This approach is itself of course vulnerable to metaphilosophical charges in that it “naturalizes” philosophy and confines it to second-order thinking and reflection on other (scientific) practices. Either way, I do not see Kleinberg faring any better on this issue, quite the opposite. He caricaturizes historiography instead of engaging with it and gives no real grounding or argumentation, (meta-)philosophical or otherwise, for his implausible ontology or his idiosyncratic “dictates” of what “theory of history” and “historical theory” are.

7As I call the general approach to give philosophical priority to historiography and its practices “philosophy of historiography”, it might be better to speak of HPH as “history and philosophy of historiography” too. That may be the case, the crucial thing is the approach itself though, not the name. So, while it is important in many situations to differentiate history and historiography, especially as in everyday English both are often subsumed under the term history alone, I am content to leave that differentiation aside where the priority the approach gives to historiography is clear enough. Another thing to consider is that word creations such as “history and philosophy of historiography”, “theory and philosophy of history” and their likes are often rather long and unwieldy so that shorthands are preferable in many practical situations.

8 In terms of the style, form, and potential effects of Kleinberg’s newest text, I think my assessment of his (co-authored) “Theses on Theory and History” from 2018 applies here too: “As for the newest proposal by the Wild On Collective in this ongoing debate in the process of formation of a more discernible discipline, I doubt that they accomplish their theoretical goal of convincing philosophers or historians of their positions if there ever was such a goal. Their tone is just too strident and their mode of argumentation too stipulative, forming an uneasy mixture of a ‘j’accuse’ thrown at the feet of the discipline and an attempt at outlining an alternative position that should be attractive to both historians and philosophers“ (Gangl 2018).