Forgery and the Specter of Philology

Forging the Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain chronicles and unravels historiographical strands made of the complicated lives and afterlives of a set of manuscripts and printed books in defense of the Spanish church and its saints and martyrs against the Roman post-Tridentine reform of Christian sacred history. Olds studies one particular Jesuit historian, Jerónimo Román de la Higuera (1538–1611) and his notorious “falsos cronicones,” in which he rewrote and invented historical archives in order to prove the antiquity of Spanish Christianity. Olds's enticing narrative and thorough research prove the point that forgery is also a “mode of historical writing,” and the only reproach one might level at this fine book is the narrow focus on Spain when it comes to discussing the reception of the Chronicles. Reading this book, however, inspires and raises larger questions, including the use of forgeries for patriotic (national) histories and the ethics of historical scholarship. By looking into recent statements by Sheldon Pollock, a philologist and intellectual historian of South Asia, and by Hayden White in his recent The Practical Past, this article argues that in spite of their different methodologies, they both converge in defining the task of a historian as doing something other than supporting national, patriotic, technocratic, and “market-oriented” agendas.