A Craving for Critical History

Roger Cooter is concerned about the survival of historiography under the pressures of neoliberal economics and the entertainment industry. His and Claudia Stein's book is a welcome call for “critical history,” which is aware of own fundamental intellectual categories. Cooter emphasizes the importance of self-reflection and political contextualization of all knowledge-production. However, although reflection is undoubtedly a virtue, it is not clear whether historiography is under such a severe threat. It is also necessary to ask where the limits of contextualization lie. It is doubtful whether a fully localized and contextualized study removed of all “presentist” categories and language is possible. In addition, one should avoid combining antirealism about natural sciences in the name of anti-Whiggism with realism about historical knowledge in attempts to provide contextualized accounts of the past. What is needed above all is the hermeneutical dialogue between the language of past agents and the language of present actors.