Conference: "The Usefulness of History"

“What is the use of history?” was the acute question which Marc Bloch tried to answer in his Apologie pour l’Histoire in 1941, question that starts his reflections about the historian’s craft. In fact, the interest on the utility of the systematic knowledge of the past has been at the center of historians’ and philosophers’ concern since the birth of this discipline. Herodotus recognized the ability of joy and enchantment of history, being that one of the starting points for his reflections and analysis. For him, as well as for Thucydides, Polibius, and other classical historians, the usefulness of history was undeniable and rested mainly in its didactic and exemplar value, which took Cicero to define it as magistra vitae. During centuries, such value and usefulness seemed to be something inherent to the historical knowledge, until the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when some authors like Hegel started to question it, while others, like Nietzsche and Droysen, still believed in it, as was recently exposed by Christopher Bouton. Along the twentieth century, and in the first decades of the twenty-first century, the usefulness and the guiding function of historical knowledge have been consistently challenged and even denied. In the latter perspective, history emerges as a peculiar way of engaging with the past, becoming even in some cases only a mode of discourse, whose purpose is alien to its usefulness and pragmatic value to the present (Hayden White and Michael Oakeshott).
The aim of the VIIIth International Conference of Theory and Philosophy of History is to think and discuss about the problem of the usefulness of history. What is the use of history? For whom is history useful? Should the usefulness of its knowledge be considered among the goals of the historical discipline for present? Should the historian consider in his analysis the uses that can be done of his knowledge in the present? Does the knowledge of the past provide something to the knowledge of the present? Or rather, is it necessary for the historian to put aside every useful and pragmatic consideration of his task when researching? Can history, being a complex recreation of the past, have a therapeutic character in the relationship between that past and the present? What are the limits of the usefulness of history? What are the limits among usefulness, utilization and manipulation of history? These are some of the questions that will be at the heart of this Conference, and therefore, will stimulate the interdisciplinary discussion among history, philosophy and other humanistic disciplines.

Posted: 19-04-2017 | Updated: 07-03-2022