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This chapter starts by arguing that traditionally the writing of history has a strong connection to the construction of identities, be they national, class, ethnic, gender or spatial identities. The theory of history has also re-inforced that link until a range of diverse thinkers came to question this. I am discussing in particular Hayden White, Michel Foucault, Mikhail Bakhtin, Chris Lorenz, Chantal Mouffe, Michel de Certeau, Pierre Bourdieu, Stuart Hall, Roland Barthes, Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida. The collective impact of these authors has been to produce a greater self-reflexivity about the relationship between history and identity formation in many historians. The book, however, is not about a whiggish story of progress towards self-reflexivity, but it highlights that work which, in the author’s view, has been successful in being self-reflective about the historians’ part in the construction of identities.
This chapter starts by asking ‘What is in a Thing?’ It discusses the material presence of the past and its rediscovery, for example, in the history of commodities. Material culture history, it argues, has been critical of the linguistic turn but is still building on insights from it. It proposes that objects provide an ‘order of things’ (Michel Foucault), which is in need of examination and contextualisation. At the same time material culture history has also been in the vanguard of decentring human agency and problematising the ‘Anthropocene’. Using non-representational theory, it has been arguing in favour of recognising the agency of things and decentring human agency in history. Material culture history has also been pointing to the longevity of material objects, providing them with often malleable and multiple meanings. It is striking how prominent everyday objects are in material culture histories. Through them individual identities are often related to larger collective identities. Historians of material culture have contributed to raising our awareness of the link between objects and collective identity formation. Examples from national history, environmental history, first nations hsitory, the history of ethnic minorities, colonial history, cultural history, design history, architectural history, regional history, class history, gender history and religious history are all discussed in oder to underline the potential of material culture history to lead to greater self-reflexivity among historians about their role in constructing forms of collective identity and to deconstruct these identities.
This chapter starts by accounting for the early beginnings of social, economic and labour history in different parts of the world at different times. It then analyses the crisis of social history during the 1970s and 1980s. Challenged both by history from below and by political history as well as poststructuralist theories, social, economic and labour history began to decline. However, over recent decades we have also witnessed a renaissance of a ‘new’ social, economic and labour history. The main bulk of the chapter analyses this renewal, discussing sublaltern studies, the cultural turn, the move to global histories of work, the emphasis on practices as well as discourses and the proliferation of new sub-fields. Overall, many of these recent developments have led to a greater self-reflexivity about the writing of history and its links to collective identity formation.
This chapter starts off by discussing the roots of historical anthropology in ‘people’s history’ before the linguistic turn. It then traces the journey from the history workshop movements of the 1960s and 1970s to historical anthropology, focusing on European and Indian groups (the Subaltern Studies Group). It highlights the work of Ann Laura Stoler as an example of how historical anthropology led to new and exciting perspectives in historical writing with deep implications for the deconstruction of historical identities. Historical anthropologists brought with them a concern for the everyday, diversity, performance and resistance and they raised an awareness of the undeterminedness of the past. They also emphasised how collective identities were rooted in constructions of culture. Relating cultural values to practices, diverse theories of the everday examined different structures of power and the agency of ordinary people in resisting and re-appropriating these structures of power. Treating culture as fluid, plural and changing, it also contributed to the de-essentialisation of human identities. Emphasising mimetic processes and the interrelationship of diverse mimetically produced images, historical anthropology also contributed to the decentring of Western perspectives.
This introduction to contemporary historical theory and practice shows how issues of identity have shaped how we write history. Stefan Berger charts how a new self-reflexivity about what is involved in the process of writing history entered the historical profession and the part that historians have played in debates about the past and its meaningfulness for the present. He introduces key trends in the theory of history such as postmodernism, poststructuralism, constructivism, narrativism and the linguistic turn and reveals, in turn, the ways in which they have transformed how historians have written history over the last four decades. The book ranges widely from more traditional forms of history writing, such as political, social, economic, labour and cultural history, to the emergence of more recent fields, including gender history, historical anthropology, the history of memory, visual history, the history of material culture, and comparative, transnational and global history.
This chapter analyses the move of historians away from text and towards the interpretation of visuals. Starting with art history’s turn to the social and the cultural, it traces the interest of historians for an ever wider group of images, including popular images. It also highlights the emergence of perspectivalism and transdisciplinarity in the field of visual history. The main bulk of the chapter is taken up with presenting a range of examples showing how the visual turn in historical writing has contributed to deconstructing national identites, class identities and racial/ethnic identities. Ranging widely across different parts of the globe it also discusses the deconstruction of religious and gender identities through visual histories that have in total contributed much towards a much higher self-reflexivity among historians when it comes to the construction of collective identities through historical writing.
This concluding chapter argues that current ideas about post-narrativism and post-representationalism still build on narrativism and representationalism rather than rejecting them. They do so in particular in their radical move away from grand narratives that are associated with the construction of collective identities. Yet, as the previous chapters have shown, this position can go hand in hand with maintaining that historical writing can and should amount to an intervention in the social world and that it is meaningful for directing and informing a variety of democratic policy agendas. It is historical writing that keeps the future open and makes us suspicious of all attempts to declare an end to history. The ‘new’ histories that have been emerging over recent decades and which have been the subject of analysis in this book often see identification in the definition by Stuart Hall as the basis for their social intervention. They contributed to a growing self-reflexivity about the relationship of historical writing and collective identity formation and they have often taken their starting point from a body of highly diverse theories that have been discussed in Chapter 1 of this volume. The chapter recaps the arguments of the previous eleven chapters of the book and finishes with a reflection on how the struggle over and with history will continue in the future. Denying the existence of any whiggish progressivism, it charts the well-known fact that professional historians’ greater reluctance to commit to the construction of essentialised collective identities has gone hand in hand with the willingness of ‘amateur historiansߣ to do precisely that. This in turn has made it increasingly necessary for professional historians not to retreat to their ivory towers but engage with all essentialised forms of identity history. They need to become engaged and public historians who continue an ongoing struggle over the past in all human societies.
This chapter looks at the spread of global history globally and the abandonment of historiographical nationalism. It examines the long practice of comparative, transnational and global history writing since the Enlightenments. It also looks at the construction of peculiarities and exceptionalisms through comparison as well as their critique. It distinguishes between comparative and global history and links the rise of both to the renewed crisis of historicism since the 1980s. It also discusses the controvery between comparative historians and historians of cultural transfer, arguing that both approaches need to be united. The chapter highlights the idea of circulations and examines the explosion of global history around particular themes. It also underlines its usefulness in overcoming Western-centric models of development and questioning universalisms. Transnational, comparative and global histories have all contributed to decentring collective identity constructions and making historians more aware of the ways in which historical writing has been connected to the construction of such collective identities. This is shown in relation to spatial boundaries, be they national or supra-national, but also in relation to class, racial and gender identities. Postcolonial perspectives on global history have been particularly adept at questioning the Western-centrism of historical writing and understanding diverse regimes of colonialism. It has also made transnational global history more aware of its own temptation to further global identities.
This chapter begins by summarising the development of the history of ideas out of which conceptual history emerged. It discusses in detail the founding figure of conceptual history, Reinhart Koselleck, and compares his approach to that of the influential Cambridge school, in particular Quentin Skinner and J. G. A. Pocock, and their ‘contextualism’. The bulk of the chapter is then dedicated to a discussion of a range of examples of how conceptual histories have helped to deconstruct a rainge of collective identities, including class, religious, racial and gender identities. In all of these areas we have seen an intense interest in linking the history of conceps with the study of emotions, social practices and the problematisation of the national container for historical studies. In particular the move to a transnational history of concepts has contributed in a major way to de-essentialising collective national identities but also transnational, i.e. European ones. Furthermore, conceptual history has been emphasising the importance of studying the translation of concepts into different languages and cultural spheres.
This chapter traces the emergence of the field of memory studies and assesses the historians’ contribution to this field. In particular the influential work of Pierre Nora is discussed here. Memory history, it argues, has moved from underpinning national historical master narratives to promoting transnational cosmopolitan forms of memory that in turn have produced greater self-reflexivity about the relationship between historical writing and collective identity formation and helped to de-essentialise collective identities. The chapter introduces and analyses a range of different memory debates that all, in their different ways, have helped to de-essentialise the construction of collective identities: memory debates surrounding communism, the Holocaust, Brexit, the Truth and Reconciliation Committee in South Africa are all discussed in this respect. The chapter also introduces the concept of ‘agonistic memory’ and discusses how it may help to repoliticise memory and contribute to greater self-reflexivity about the construction of memory and the shaping of collective identities.
This chapter begins by tracing the strong links between traditional political history writing and identity politics, be it national identity, the identity of empires or religious identity. It then analyses the crisis of political history writing in the 1960s and 1970s. Finally it examines the remaking of the ‘new’ political history, highlighting (a) a stonger concern for popular politics, (b) a major emphasis on the languages of politics, (c) the desire to look for links between popular politics and popular religion and (d) the study of political transfers. Overall the new political history has done much to problematise the strong link between political history writing and identity formation.
This chapter looks at the cultural turn in historical writing since the 1980s and how it changed the established traditions of cultural history writing which had existed since the beginnings of professional history writing. The strong influence of poststructuralist theories led to a growing attention to questions of representations and constructions as well as to hidden meanings. It also traces the increasing desire to embed discourses in social practices. The chapter argues that an emphasis on the situational and relational processes in which humans acted remained often linked to an emancipatory agenda. A concern for human agency united with an interest in forms of creolisation and hybridity. Theories of alterity and studies of cultural transfer moved to the fore in many sub-fields of history, e.g. in LGBT history. The chapter explores in particular a range of promising new avenues in the new cultural history: the history of the senses, the history of emotions, the history of the body, the history of violence, nationalism studies. The chapter concludes with a discussion of how the new cultural history contributed to greater self-reflexivity about the role of historical writing in collective identity formation. In particular Stuart Hall’s theory of ‘identification’ is used to describe the way in which a commitment to an engaged history writing can be squared with reflexivity about identity formation through historical writing.
This chapter opens with a brief vignette on the long struggle to give women a voice in history across different parts of the world. It then examines the agendas and ambitions of gender histories, the discovery of men’s studies, the history of private life, the history of the body. Gender, it argues, did not only develop new fields of historical inquiry, it also impacted massively on traditional fields of historical writing, including political history, the history of empire, the history of science, economic history, nationalism studies and the history of warfare. The fields of women’s and gender history have been closely connected to a feminist politics of historical writing. It sought to recover the full range and depth of women’s experiences and it discussed a range of diverse gender identiteis and multiple ways of constructing the category of ‘woman’ and ‘gender’. It also emphasised the relationality of gender with a range of other master concepts for historical writing, inclucing race, class and religion. By historicising gender identities, it also de-essentialised those identities and pointed to the discursive construction of gender, with more recent historians also rediscovering the embodied experience of gender. Gender history, the chapter concludes, played a crucial role in pluralising our understanding of identity.