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The Practical Past

Author(s): Hayden White
Subject(s): Social Sciences
Published by: Институт за изследвания на обществата и знанието при БАН

Summary/Abstract: Many of the problems of philosophy of history derive from the confusion of the term “history" with the term „past". Not everything that is past is history, and history does not include all of the past. The philosopher Michael Oakeshott has argued that „the historical past" is limited to that part of the whole past that has been subjected to „historiological" analysis and written up and distilled into the kind of writing recognized as „historiography". He maintains that, when we confront a practical problem in daily life for which we need some information about how to solve it, we advert, not to the historical past - the past of history books - but to the „practical past", that congeries of personal and collective memories, ideas, experiences, and ideologies we all carry around with us as a part of personal (but not necessarily „subjective") consciousness. In doing this we may think that we are calling upon history" or„historical knowledge" and may very well cite „history" as the basis for the decisions we have to make in daily life, economic life, politics, war, and art. Prior to history's transformation into a science, it was generally thought that history was a practical discipline and belonged to rhetoric and therefore the moral sciences. After history became scientized, it lost any authority in the fields of morality and ethics. Consequently, the practical aspect of historical knowledge was picked up by literary writers, first in the historical novel and then in those modernist and postmodernist novels in which the distinction between history and literature was all but erased. The plethora of „novelesque histories" spawned by postmodernist writing can be understood as a development in literature of the practical past spurned by historians who believe that history can and must be studied scientifically.

  • Issue Year: 42/2010
  • Issue No: 3-4
  • Page Range: 122-140
  • Page Count: 19
  • Language: Bulgarian