Rethinking Intellectual History and Reading Texts

Historiography has been dominated by a documentary approach to the reconstruction of the past. For intellectual historians the result has been the treatment of the historical text as a description rather than a dialogue. Though such interpretations recognize the context, they do so in a reductive fashion. This, in effect, restricts the historiography to an ideal type, a heuristic fiction, or a self-conscious defense of the historians' craft. The alternative to the documentary approach, however, is not a view of history as a projection on the present. Such views themselves are dependent upon the reductive tendencies of the documentary approach and become subject to the same criticisms. What is required is a more performative approach which addresses the complex interaction between the language of the text and that of the context.