Friday, August 1, 2008

Revisiting the historical revolution revisited...

I turned my paper in Tuesday morning. Huzzah! However, Dr. Daniel Miller, my supervising professor, still needs to read and approve it. He may suggest significant changes. This merry-go-round has not yet stopped.

What is this paper, you ask? I'll explain it briefly. We moderns view history, the past, notions of continuity and change in time, etc., very differently from, well, people in the past. The medieval understanding in particular stood in opposition (and was in some ways superior) to our modern notions of time. (Medievals overemphasized permanence, we overemphasize change.) The Renaissance/Reformation was an imporant transitional period for the understanding and writing of history. The many intellectual, social, and material innovations that occurred during the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries (especially the 16th, in my opinion) caused a shift in our understanding of the past and our relationship to it, and they paved the way for the creation of the modern discipline of historical studies.

Where does my paper, "Historical Revolution Revisited: The Waning Influence of F. Smith Fussner in Tudor-Stuart Historiography," fit into this? The big debate is whether the shifts in ideas and practices in history (and in the Renaissance in general) were gradual or punctuated, evolutionary or revolutionary, political or intellectual or social or material, etc. How to define this shift in historical understanding? F. Smith Fussner, professor of history at Reed College (at the time), published his book The Historical Revolution: English Historical Writing and Thought 1580-1640 in 1962, arguing that nothing short of a "historical revolution" analogous to the widely-acknowledged "scientific revolution" occurred in England between 1580 and 1640 (or 1660, as he sometimes suggests - F. Smith, will you make up your mind!).

Fussner's thesis proved very influential among early modern historians. This is not to say that everyone agreed with him. Some scholars bought his argument in its entirety, and some completely rejected it, arguing that shifts in historical understanding in this time were mere extensions of medieval thought. Most, however, disagreed with specifics of his thesis, yet agreed that significant changes (often amounting to a "revolution" of some sort) definitely occurred in historical understanding and practices during this period. My paper basically tracks these arguments among 20th-century historians from Fussner's 1962 book to Wyman H. Herendeen's 2007 book William Camden.

Basically, my paper is a historiographical survey (a history of historians) on 20th-century historians on 16th-century historians (a history of histories of historians). Bracing stuff, indeed.

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