“In Defence of History” by Richard Evans

Evans seems at first to imply he’s replacing, and steering midway between, E.H. Carr and Sir Geoffrey Elton, and defending History against all things post-modern, but ends up steering midway between post-modernism and ‘traditional’ history.
The Afterword, added for this edition, is a very unusual apologia, a detailed attempt to refute the clearly widespread and hostile reception given to the first edition. Apart from being less well edited (typos, repetitions (Peter Ghosh)), this is usually convincing, but has two weaknesses, one amusing and the other more serious, and for me puzzling. Firstly he tries to defend himself against charges of being rude about other historians (which he often is, gently but cuttingly sardonic), and usually fails. Secondly, often his final objection to a hostile review from a post-modernist is that, because a post-modernist doesn’t believe in objective facts, but that everything is text and all utterances are relative, they therefore can’t say anything about his own book and mean their comments to be taken seriously. This point strikes to the heart of post-modernism, so it was surprising to see it really only used in the ad hominem Afterword; it appears again in Adam Schatz’ review of a biography of Derrida in the LRB: how can Derrida say anything, even that texts’ meaning is impossible to pin down? Perhaps he addresses this somewhere, or perhaps one just isn’t supposed to ask this, but it puzzles me. But if postmodernists could justify using traditional reason to argue for its impossibility, these ripostes of Evans wouldn’t work.

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One Response to “In Defence of History” by Richard Evans

  1. Pingback: “Re-thinking History” by Keith Jenkins | Houyhnhnm

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