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Home Uncategorized The Ends of History

The Ends of History

Ciaran Brady
Cold War culture: intellectuals, the media and the practice of history, by Jim Smyth, IB Tauris, 256 pp, £69.00, ISBN: 978-1784531126 “Historiography”, a word not easy on the eye or the tongue, can also be a confused and confusing idea. At its simplest, and least interesting, it can connote those dreary but apparently mandatory reviews “of the literature” which must precede the substance of graduate dissertations and published academic monographs. The format of such exercises will be familiar – and not only to students of history. They begin by rehearsing previous views of the topic under examination, usually by organising them, for the convenience of the reader but more especially for the writer, into distinctive interpretative camps (usually overstated) within which A and the followers of A (figures to a greater and sometimes lesser extent conscious of their adherence) on the topic of X are contrasted with the followers of B (with similar attachments) whose research findings seem to suggest X1, X 2 or even, and this is a risky move, Y. This done, the authors of the “historiographical” review can proceed to “locate” their present work, usually between both (presumed) polarities, while affirming its signal importance as a significant act of transcendence of these crude oppositions, and while also, with the modesty appropriate to such exercises, conceding that much work still needs to be done in the as yet underresearched areas of blah and blah. At an altogether different level “historiography” is a term sometimes adopted by those who are engaged in what may be described as the study of the poetics of history writing, that is the analysis of the generic presentations, formal structures, plots, figures of speech and modes of authorial expression. Practised in the past mostly (not exclusively) by figures who had done no historical research or writing at all (RG Collingwood and Hayden White are splendid exceptions) this is a dimension of thought with which increasingly more reflective historians have begun to engage over the past thirty years. Historians’ greater self-reflexivity about the nature of their work has been an almost unadulterated boon, though reactionary fears that it might also induce a relativism and an indulgence in personal or sectoral subjectivism have not been without foundation. But between these entirely legitimate forms of current practice, there has been another, and an altogether older understanding of historiography. This is the study of the way in which…



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