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Lionel Gossman’s Towards a Rational Historiography (American Philosophical Society Transaction 73-5, ISBN: 142237467X)

Towards a Rational Historiography
(American Philosophical Society Transaction 79-3, ISBN: 142238196X)
by Lionel Gossman (Paperback, 68 pages, 1989, $25.00)

Towards a Rational Historiography

Author Lionel Gossman maintains that underlying the argument that historiography cannot be subsumed under a poetics or a rhetoric (in the sense of a system of purely linguistic or literary tropes) is a larger claim, namely that a wide range of activities, from literary criticism, through legal debate, theology, ethics, politics, psychology, and medicine to the natural sciences, all constitute rational practices, even if there is considerable variation in the degree of formalism and rigor and in the type of argument most commonly employed in each of these different of fields of inquiry.

See the Google Preview: Towards a Rational Historiography of this book before you purchase it.

Hence Gossman emphasizes the practice or process of doing history rather than the product. What appeals to him in the idea of reason as a practice is its open, liberal, and democratic character. Historiography as a rational practice supposes a community of participants rather than the “anomie” of a world in which every man is his own historian or, at best, the relation of hero and follower that appears to be implied by privileging the historical “text.”

“In a 1963 essay on Voltaire’s History of Charles XII,” author Lionel Gossman tells the American Philosophical Society, “I had argued, in reaction to the seemingly entrenched positivism of the historical profession, that in constructing their narratives historians use the same literary figures and tropes as writers of fiction.

“After the publication of Hayden White’s groundbreaking Metahistory by the Johns Hopkins University Press (of whose editorial board I was then a member), I became associated with a group of historians, philosophers, and literary scholars, who were putting forward similar arguments.

“Soon, however, as often happens, what had been a challenging, critical position became a new orthodoxy. My students seemed to believe that there was no difference at all between history and fiction.

“I was convinced there was and I began to argue that modern history at least was a problem-solving rather than a myth-making activity, an ongoing process of criticism and revision, which could never, certainly, result in a representation of past reality but which in fact neither aimed nor claimed to offer that.

“I suggested that we consider historical narrative as closer to the competing evidence-based narratives presented in a court of law than to literary fictions. Towards a Rational Historiography was my attempt to stake out a position that was neither naively positivist nor completely skeptical.”

Edward Berenson writes in his book The Trial of Madame Caillaux: “Unlike many recent critics of historians and historical practice, especially those influenced by French literary theory, Gossman grounds his discussion in a solid sense of what historians ‘actually do’, not just when they write their narratives but when they perform their research, integrate and evaluate the work of others, revise and reconceptualize their scholarship in the face of new evidence and critical scrutiny.”

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June 30, 2010 at 10:29 pm Leave a comment

Lionel Gossman’s Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity: American Philosophical Society Transactions (73-5) (ISBN: 142237467X)

Orpheus Philologus: Bachofen versus Mommsen on the Study of Antiquity
(American Philosophical Society Transaction 73-5, ISBN: 142237467X)
by Lionel Gossman (Paperback, 89 pages, 1983, $25.00)

Orpheus Philologus Though the great German classical scholar Theodor Mommsen was probably unaware of it, he was the object of the passionate and enduring hatred of J. J. Bachofen, an obscure Swiss philologist in the provincial city of Basle.

See the Google Preview: Orpheus Philologus of this book before you purchase it.

Bachofen, not well known in the English-speaking world, is mentioned by anthropologists for his contribution to the popular 19th-century theory of “matriarchy,” and by classicists such as George Derwent Thomson for his contributions to the study of Greek myth and tragedy.

“I chanced on Bachofen, while working on the French historian, Jules Michelet,” author Lionel Gossman tells the American Philosophical Society. “Gender carries great metaphoric weight in Michelet’s historical writings and popular works of natural history. Bachofen highlights its role in ancient classical myth.

“For both, the feminine signifies the body, the primitive, the unbounded, the people; it is the productive source of life, but also marks the eternal, mindless cycle of life and death. The masculine, in contrast, represents spirit, reason, law, and progress; but without the feminine, it is sterile.

“Strikingly, Bachofen’s masterwork Das Mutterrecht (Mother-Right) appeared in the same year (1861) as Michelet’s best-selling La Mer, which is as much about the mother, the feminine, as it is about the sea.

“In Bachofen, I discovered a politically conservative scholar of great imagination and literary talent, whose Romantic vision of historical research, in an increasingly positivist age, as a descent into a forgotten or repressed underworld, was surprisingly similar to that of his left-leaning French contemporary.”

Arnaldo Momigliano writes in The Journal of Modern History: “Gossman’s monograph, penetrating and well informed […] will help enormously to place Bachofen in his time and to indicate his interest for our time. Gossman sees him as the lonely heir of a previous generation and tradition […] whose philological interpretation of individual texts had been characterized by a deep suspicion of the modernization of ancient views and by a predisposition to an intuitive global understanding of the wisdom of classical and preclassical stories.”

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June 30, 2010 at 2:01 pm Leave a comment

Google Preview 20,000 Publications on

Have you ever wanted to flip through pages of a book or report before to help you decide to buy it? Now you can!

Google Preview Button We’ve launched an exciting new feature on the Diane Publishing Web site: the Google Preview button for nearly 20,000 of our titles, including 17,000 government reports and 3,000 publications from our non-profit Philadelphia-area partner “affiliates.”

For nearly four years we have offered nearly all of our titles 100 percent fully-viewable on Google Books. Now you can preview these publications on the Diane Publishing Web site, instead of having to search separately on Google Books.

The preview is generally 100 percent for the government reports, and most of the publications from our affiliates. Let’s see it in action for the government report “Protecting and Restoring America’s Watersheds.” (Click the images to enlarge them.)

Watersheds Icons Protecting Watersheds Preview
Now let’s try it out with the book “Jefferson’s Botanists,” published by our affiliate the Academy of Natural Sciences, which we also featured in an earlier post about Lewis and Clark publications.
Google Preview Highlight Google Preview: Jefferson's Botanists
Update June 2010: Our Web site is now optimized for mobile use, including the Google Preview feature. Now you can read government reports and publications from our affiliates on your mobile phone — without leaving the Diane site.

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April 1, 2010 at 7:14 am Leave a comment

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