The Trouble with History

This essay takes its departure from Michel-Rolph Trouillot's discussion of what he calls North Atlantic universalisms, that is, categories that took their origin in the particulars of the West's historical experience but have come to be extended and naturalized as quasi-normative standards of presumably universal human relevance. Trouillot's important intervention in Western conceptions of history and historiography in Silencing the Past notwithstanding, the essay argues that the distinction he draws between “historicity 1” and “historicity 2” betrays his struggle with the continued effects of historicism as an ideology that Karl Mannheim once called the “worldview of modernity.” It is in this respect that we ought to extend and sharpen Trouillot's pathbreaking critique.