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On the Future of History

The Postmodernist Challenge and Its Aftermath

What does postmodernism mean for the future of history? Can one still write history in postmodernity? To answer questions such as these, Ernst Breisach provides the first comprehensive overview of postmodernism and its complex relationship to history and historiography. Placing postmodern theories in their intellectual and historical contexts, he shows how they are part of broad developments in Western culture.

Breisach sees postmodernism as neither just a fad nor a universal remedy. In clear and concise language, he presents and critically evaluates the major views on history held by influential postmodernists, such as Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard, and the new narrativists. Along the way, he introduces to the reader major debates among historians over postmodern theories of evidence, objectivity, meaning and order, truth, and the usefulness of history. He also discusses new types of history that have emerged as a consequence of postmodernism, including cultural history, microhistory, and new historicism.

For anyone concerned with the postmodern challenge to history, both advocates and critics alike, On the Future of History will be a welcome guide.

256 pages | 6 x 9 | © 2003

Culture Studies

History: European History, History of Ideas

Literature and Literary Criticism: General Criticism and Critical Theory

Philosophy: General Philosophy

Sociology: General Sociology


"On the Future of History is an intelligent and extremely interesting book. . . . Breisach recognises that what the poststructuralists sought to challenge was not history in the academic sense; and that the rejection of academic history’s truth claims are but one battle in the epistemological war . . . steeped as he is in the historical intersections between intellectual endeavour and political praxis, Breisach shows that these wider thoughts about the past and the future have a key bearing on the present. . . .On the Future of History is written clearly and often elegantly. . . . For those who have done some reading in the area, it provides a magnificently lucid guide to the currents of thought. Admirably, there is absolutely no sound of grinding axes nor of the ill-informed pontificating adopted by other historians who have attempted to defend history from its apparent foes. One is treated to a diligent reading of the works discussed, placed in a wider intellectual landscape. It is a demanding read, but for the right reason."

John Arnold | Times Higher Education Supplement

"Breisach provides both a guide to the arguments about history and postmodernism and an optimistic view of history’s future, which can be recommended to students of the nature of historical knowledge."

Christopher Parker | Literature & History

“This small volume deals with an ambitious subject: the challenge of postmodernist theories to the study of history. . . . An intelligent guide to the future of historical study.”--<I>Choice<I>


Table of Contents

A Prefatory and Introductory Note
Part 1 - A Preliminary Exploration of the Postmodernist Challenge
1. A Look at Terms and Issues
2. An Adversarial Image of Modernity
3. The Postmodern Moment
4. At the Core of the Postmodernist Challenge to History
5. Two Versions of the Postmodernist Future
-Postmodernity as the Ultimate Era of Stability
-Postmodernity as the Endless Stage of Total Flux
6. The Project of a Postmodernist Theory of History

Part 2 - Postmodernity as the Triumph of Continuity: Structural Postmodernism
7. Postmodernism’s Emergence in an Unlikely Setting
8. An Early Redefinition of Progress’s Destination
9. Views with Postmodernist Affinities
10. The First Twentieth-Century Postmodernist: Alexandre Kojève
11. The Flourishing of Structural Postmodernism (1945-65)
-The Setting
-An Ideological Path to Postmodernity: Hendrik de Man and Bertrand de Jouvenel
-An Anthropological Path to Postmodernity: Arnold Gehlen
-A Scientific-Technological Path to Postmodernity: Roderick Seidenberg
12. The Fading of Structural Postmodernism and a Triumphal Exception: Francis Fukuyama
13. Insights and Problems

Part 3 - Postmodernity as the Age of Dominant Change: Poststructuralist Postmodernism
14. A Prelude to Poststructuralist Postmodernism Name, Motive, and Task
-Two Decisive Intellectual Turns: Linguistic and Philosophical
-The Context of Poststructuralist Postmodernism’s Rise
15. Narrativist History in the Poststructuralist Mode
-The Preparatory Role of Early Narrativism
-Roland Barthes’s Challenge
-Narrativism, Poststructuralist Postmodernism, and the Historical Ways of Inquiry: White, Ankersmit, Kellner
-Motives, Visions, and Problems
-Coming to Terms with the New Narrativism: The Recent Scholarly Debate
16. In the Eye of the Storm: The Poststructuralist Postmodernist Concept of Truth
-The Target of Rejection
-Preparatory Developments for the Revision of Truth: Dilthey, Nietzsche, Heidegger
-Foucault’s Truth: Power Manifested in Language
-Jacques Derrida: A Systematic Answer
-A Moderately Linguistic Approach: Jean-François Lyotard
-Reflections on the New Concept of Truth
-The Debate on the Implications for Historical Thought and Practice
17. The Metanarrative Controversy
-The Argument against the Historical Metanarrative: Lyotard, Foucault, Derrida, Baudrillard
-The Ongoing Debate about the Metanarrative
-An Innovative Variant: The New Cultural History
18. Poststructuralist Postmodernists on the Individual and the Utility of History
-Could History Still be Useful?
-The Deconstruction of the Individual as Historical Agent
-Can Postmodernist Views of History Justify Action?
-Activism without the Guidance of the Past
-Responses to the Challenge

Part 4 - Poststructuralist Postmodernism and the Reshaping of Society
19. What Kind of Marxism in Postmodernity?
-The Contestants and the Historical Situation
-The Deconstruction of the Marxist View of History
-A Marxist Variant with Postmodernist Themes: The Frankfurt School and Habermas
20. Postmodernism and Feminist History

Part 5 - Concluding Observations

Select Bibliography

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