✍ Frontiers of History. Historical Inquiry in the Twentieth Century [2006]

por Teoría de la historia

9780300120622This is the final volume of a trilogy on the history of historiography. It is preceded by Fortunes of History: Historical Enquiry from Herder to Huizinga (2003) and Faces of History: Historical Enquiry from Herodotus to Herder (1998). In his initial volume, Kelley wrote of a “Janus-faced double herm of Herodotus and Thucydides” in the National Museum of Naples, with its “heads back to back and looking in opposite directions” (Faces, 2). For Kelley these are “the two foundational master historians” (Frontiers, 194). The continual interaction between the long-term, wide-ranging, and broadly interpretative (exemplified by Herodotus) and the immediate, specific, and often weighted towards the contemporary (exemplified by Thucydides) pervades the entire trilogy, including Frontiers (1, 224). The former supplies an epic of broad cultural quality, while the latter can provide intense political drama (21). As in any wide-ranging survey, it is perhaps inevitable that in Frontiers, Kelley for the most part writes in the mode of Herodotus. Almost inevitably, this kind of literature can lapse into a kind of extended annotated bibliography, with authors and schools cataloged and compared. If Kelley does not entirely escape this trap, his continuing commentary is rarely dull, occasionally laced with a mild urbane humor, and testifies to a lifetime of scholarship. His more Thucydidean moments come in the more explicitly personal—even autobiographical—passages in the concluding part of the book (206 ff.). Except for these latter passages, Kelley follows the pattern set in Fortunes, discussing twentieth century historiography in broadly national terms. The discussion mainly alternates among Germany (29-39, 53-9, 89-100, 149-57), France (22-8, 109-17, 136-9, 182-9), Great Britain—mainly England (13-22, 100-9, 142-9, 176-82), and the USA (117-26, 157-64, 170-6, 189-91). Within these contexts Kelley offers learned commentary and stimulating asides, although few would concur with every assertion. For example, I question his statement that Butterfield’s critique of The Whig Interpretation of History in 1931 was offered when that interpretation was in “full flower” (13). As P. B. M. Blaas argued in 1978, the Whig interpretation was in decline by the 1890s. Yet many of Kelley’s assessments are commendable. At least two are worthy of mention. Firstly, notwithstanding the continuities (138), the travails of 1914-1922—even with the horrors that transpired thereafter—still present themselves as a mighty watershed (35, 46, 75, 89 and 135). Europe and historiography could never be the same again. That said, Kelley is skeptical towards periodical announcements of “new” cultural, social, or intellectual histories, (15, 201, 221, 239). Also, while acknowledging the force of “postmodern” skepticism, his answers are shrewd and measured (239-42). I concur with Kelley’s caution towards embracing a supposedly distinct postmodern condition—and the corollary of a postmodern historiography (225, 250). Arguably, our era is one of hypermodernity rather than of a presumed postmodernity. While a desire to complete so extensive a trilogy is understandable, it is regrettable that the final text contains needless repetitions. Twice we are told that our calendar is derived from the Venerable Bede (211 and 243), twice Ranke is represented as “notorious” for purporting to describe the past “as it really was” (217 and 222), and twice it is asserted that Fritz Fischer “reignited” the 1914 German war guilt question (172 and 174). The perils of word-processing are additionally evident in the repetition of an entire passage concerning Polybius and “universal history” (194, 234-5). This somewhat mars the completion of a grand enterprise, but prospective readers should not be discouraged from taking up this valuable conclusion to a significant series. It is essential reading for all historians seeking insight into their historical place in the development of the discipline. Yet if Herodotus and Thucydides, in their different ways, both point us toward Athens, the readers of this journal might well enquire: “And what of Jerusalem?” Do these Greeks represent false alternatives from which Jerusalem might deliver us? After all, are not the one and the many, and the particular and general, altogether dependent on the Word of the Lord? Is not the historical process itself contingent on the Word of him for whom a thousand years are as but a watch in the night? Kelley’s references to Eusebius might be taken as pointing in this direction (3, 69). If he finds a biblical/Christian alternative wanting, a clue to the reason might be discerned in his reference to “the fundamentalist part of my family” in the context set by references to biblical genealogies, reflecting as they do only the folk memory of their compilers on the one hand and the impressive results yielded by DNA research in the field of historical genography on the other (224). Work in this field has contextualized as well as extended and broadened the pre-scientific genealogies of Genesis, rather than discredited them. We are indebted to Kelley for his immense labors on the history of historiography; perhaps some repayment might be rendered by way of a greater concentration on the part of Christian scholars on the relationships between the biblical texts and extra-biblical evidence.

[Keith C. SEWELL. “Donald R. Kelley, Frontiers of History: Historical Inquiry in the Twentieth Century. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2006, pp. ix+298” (reseña), in Fides et Historia (Quincy, MA), vol. XL, nº 1, invierno-primavera de 2008, p. 87-88]