Friday, March 16, 2012
Ankersmit on Historians
"I wanted to cut through all ties with literary theory and why, without changing conceptually or theoretically, I preferred to replace the term narrative by representation. Representation is a neutral term. I think it also quite adequately describes what an historian does – he gives a representation of the past in the sense of making the past present again. That is why we need historical writing. A representation is not necessarily a narrative; you have the so called cross-sectional studies, the famous example being Jacob Burckhardt's Die Cultur der Renaissance in Italien or Huizinga's The waning of the middle ages or Braudel's on the Mediterranean world. They do not tell a story, they do not give us a narrative with a certain beginning, middle and end, but they are historical works representing the past."
"This is why the epistemological situation in which you find yourself when having to do with truth no longer exist when it comes to representation. You cannot say of representations that they are true. What you can say is that one representation is in a certain sense better than another and it is the task of the philosophy of history to clarify how one can be better in one way or another. And that is what I try to do with the notion of metaphor."
"Historians are swamped by historical truths – and this is how it ought to be. The more truths we have about the past, the better the historian's representations of the past may become."