✍ Dictionary of Concepts in History [1986]

por Teoría de la historia

31ehbySrY+L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Harry Ritter’s Dictionary of Concepts in History should serve as a very useful reference work for historians and philosophers of history, and it should be helpful to social scientists interested in historical analysis. As Ritter observes in the preface to this volume, since historians have tended to eschew the notion of a special language for history, they have been reluctant to identify concepts peculiar to their discipline. Ritter contends, however, that certain concepts are inextricably associated with the discipline of history. Historians, he maintains, not only have helped develop “many general concepts of modern social analysis” but also use some terms in such “uncommon ways” that they are really employing concepts. Moreover, he adds, historians depend, even if implicitly, on “theoretical presuppositions” that are based on concepts. Thus, Ritter argues, historians need to give some attention to the concepts that play a significant role in their inquiries and in their explanations. In this book, then, Ritter identifies more than eighty concepts in history, and, in general, he offers clear and informative explanations of them. For each entry the author includes a definition (or varying definitions) of the concept, a synopsis of the usage of the concept, and a discussion of debates about the idea. Ritter concludes each entry with a bibliography of principal works that deal with the concept and a brief essay on additional sources. He also provides superb annotations for many of the bibliographic citations. On the whole he indicates a wide-ranging grasp of a multitude of sources, and he presents concise and lucid synopses of the varying usages of the concepts and the arguments over their meaning. Historians will be amply rewarded by reading the entries for such concepts as capitalism, culture, determinism, objectivity, progress, and value judgments. Ritter’s treatment of objectivity, for example, includes comments on the historiographical development of the concept, discussion of the argument between the “relativists” and the “objectivists” during the interwar period, and a thoughtful view on the status of the concept at present. Ritter has exercised keen judgment in selecting the most pertinent sources and in discussing very succinctly and clearly the points central to explicating the concept of objectivity. Most of the other entries are equally well done, and only in a few instances (such as covering laws, metahistory, positivism, and psychological history and psychohistory) do they fail to provide fully sufficient information. Naturally, some readers may quarrel with the author over his selection of terms and his plan of organization. Why, for example, did he choose to place the concept of presentism under the rubric of anachronism, since the former appears to be the word more commonly used in the literature? Why did he decide to separate certain concepts (such as covering laws, laws, and scientific history), since this organization forces the reader to consult more than one entry in order to deal with closely related ideas? But one can make a case for such distinctions, and, after all, one must deal with overlapping ideas in some manageable way. These are not flaws; they are simply matters of judgment. In any case, by providing good cross references and a thorough index, Ritter has made it quite easy to move from one concept to another that is closely related. The concepts included in this work may be categorized as dealing with social and economic ideas (for example, capitalism, class, culture, and nationality), historiography or the philosophy of history (for example, evidence, fact, and past), special historical terms (for example, crisis, enlightenment, and feudalism), or approaches to historical inquiry (for example, comparative history, counterfactual analysis, and social history). Obviously, a large number of the concepts fall within the purview of what historians usually consider to be the philosophy of history, but it would be a mistake for practicing historians to assume therefore that the volume is intended only for philosophers of history. Every historian may profit from reading all, or at least pertinent parts, of the book. In this work the author has made a significant contribution to our understanding of concepts specially related to the discipline of history.

[Lester D. STEPHENS. “Dictionary of Concepts in History by Harry Ritter”, in The American Historical Review, vol. XCIII, nº 2, abril de 1988, p. 390]