Marking Time and Writing Histories

Given that historical subjects experience a multiplicity of temporalities, how should scholars themselves keep time? What should they consider when selecting one temporality over another? In this article, I examine scholarship that attempts to reconcile marking time with the analysis of change over time. Before beginning this analysis, I recount how the anno Domini era became the standard for marking time. I then discuss scholarship by Fernand Braudel and David Harvey in order to establish the general sociohistorical recognition that time is a multiplicity experienced differently by its subjects. In doing so, I tease out the irony of scholars accepting temporality as a multiplicity yet nonetheless using the anno Domini calendar system to mark time in their scholarship. I then take up work by Randall Collins, Dipesh Chakrabarty, and Hayden White, laying bare the ways in which they present a series of divergent possibilities for marking time in history that in turn call attention to its irreducible multiplicity. I read these scholars as invested in determining how to create and write with a language that is suitable for studying historical change over time but that does not rely on the assumption that time itself is something monolithic and prioritized above the Weltanschauungen of historical subjects. After presenting their models, I discuss the relative strengths and weaknesses of each approach. Finally, I close this article with a meditation on the dynamics of knowledge production in the historical guild vis-à-vis the possibilities and prospects of marking time differently in scholarship.