Escaping the confines of history: Keith Jenkins

This article presents a selective evaluation of Keith Jenkins' contribution to theory of history, focusing particularly on issues that many historians seem to have had difficulties either understanding or accepting. A core part of the discussion involves the ideological and ethical reasons for as well as consequences of his recognition of epistemological scepticism. The intuitions that underlie Jenkins' turn from advocating ‘postmodern-type’ alternative histories to the denial of history altogether are also examined. After charting the alternatives, and in the face of the reality that history continues to be written in rather traditional ways, the article makes a choice to support Jenkins' earlier position, in which there remained options for ‘postmodern-type’ historying. While this position is perhaps less logical than his advocacy of an end to history altogether, it is more defensible pragmatically. Arguments for ‘ending’ with history are too easily received by ‘hard-core’ historians as a free pass out of assuming responsibility for the consequences of what they do and lead to reactionary attitudes rather than any improvement regarding the ethical problems history(ing) involves; thus emphasis here continues to be on awareness and the educating of historians in philosophy rather than on closing down discussion.