Historical Experience as a Mode of Comprehension

Abstract In the past two and a half decades, Frank Ankersmit has developed a complex notion of historical experience. Despite its many virtues it has at least one major difficulty: it implies a sharp separation between experience and language. This essay aims to bridge this gap, while preserving the positive aspects of Ankersmit’s theory. To do this, I will first present the ontological and epistemological implications of Ankersmit’s notion of historical experience. Next, I will present my objections to his idea. Finally, I will propose two modifications to his notion of historical experience: first, in the epistemological sense by considering historical experience as a form of Louis Mink’s configurational comprehension and, second, in the ontological sense by relating historical experience with the vitalist ontology of José Ortega y Gasset.