Postcoloniality and the Two Sites of Historicity

This essay examines the two sites of historicity, namely history-writing and historical agency, and their interrelationship. I borrow the idea of “sites of historicity” from historian Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995). For the purpose of analyzing how the relationship between the two sites changes with time and context, using Trouillot's theoretical lens, I examine the philosophies of history of Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. By citing instances from these two philosophers, I claim that with the rise of nineteenth-century colonialism, the two sites of historicity became discursively related in a specific way, whereby historical agency came to be predicated on history-writing. Hence, in contrast to Kant's work, in Hegel's philosophy of history the relationship between the two sites of historicity acquired a decidedly colonialist form. As a result of this predication of historical agency on history-writing, the alleged lack of historiography of certain cultures began to be considered as a token of their lack of political ability. The essay ends with the suggestion that the postcolonial thinkers and commentators who deal with historiography should challenge the foregoing predication, as it continues to inform contemporary thought concerning historiography.