Thursday, January 31, 2013

Historical Theory and Method: A Short Annotated Bibliography

Brown, Douglas E. When Past and Present Meet: A Companion to the Study of Christian Thought. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1987.

In this deeply challenging book, Brown posits that the study of Christian thought can lead to a greater appreciation of Christianity as a historical religion. Such study also provides a basis for the critical appraisal of one’s own thought and practice, and can help the student to understand others better.  The book includes a good section on the principles of historical interpretation, and a meditation of sorts on how to handle the aftereffects of such study and how to use it.

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. Oxford: University Press, 2002.
What do historians do? How do they conceive of and go about their work? And what is the value of it? In this series of eight lectures, originally delivered at Oxford during the 2000-01 school year, Gaddis responds to these and other basic questions about the enterprise called history.  To make his discussion of theory easier to follow, he constantly uses illustrations, analogies, and quotations borrowed from the worlds of art, literature, and popular culture.  Even the book’s cover art, Caspar David Friedrich’s The Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, sets up the first of many metaphors that Gaddis puts to work in order to communicate what he wants to say. This is an excellent short introduction to some of the most important questions that historians can ask themselves regarding what they do and why. My fuller review of Gaddis is at the following blog post:

Tosh, John. Historians on History. 2nd edition. Harlow, England: Pearson Educational Limited, 2009.

As the title suggests, this book is an anthology. Tosh allows us to listen in as various historians "reflect in public on the nature of their craft" (p. 1). Tosh begins by discussing "four longstanding and influential aspirations of historians." To get a handle on them, I've given these four aspirations the following titles:

1. History for Its Own Sake
2. History as a Map of Time
3. History as a Political Tool
4. History as Prophecy

Tosh regards this list as “the fourfold rationale for the study of history” (p. 9).  In addition to those, he also describes and provides examples of three major debates that have emerged within the ranks of historians over the last thirty years. These, as I see them, are as follows:

1. History About and/or By Subordinates 
2. Is this One of the Humanities, or Social Sciences?
3. History since the Rise of Postmodernism. 

According to Tosh, these are the live issues with which history is wrestling today. For my fuller discussion, see the two following posts:


Josh J. said...

I've read Gaddis, and I think he is spot on in his arguments with regards to history against the social sciences. A great read.

One book that I've found useful is Bradley and Muller;s Church History:An Introduction to Research, Reference Works, and Methods. They don't spend nearly as much time as Gaddis on the philosophy of history, but they offer some excellent tips for those seriously entering the field.

Frank Bellizzi said...

A belated "Thank you" for your comments here and for the book recommendation.