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Editor: Herman Paul

What makes a good historian? When historians raise this question, as they have done for centuries, they often do so to highlight that certain personal attitudes or dispositions are indispensable for studying the past. Yet their views on what virtues, skills or competencies historians need most differ remarkably, as do their models of how to be a historian (‘scholarly personae’). This volume explores why scholarly personae were, and are, so important to historians as to generate lots of debate. Why do historians seldom agree on the marks of a good historian? What impact do these disagreements have on historical research, teaching and outreach? And what does this tell about the unity, or disunity, of the field called historical studies? In addressing these questions, How to be a historian develops a fascinating new perspective on the history of historiography. It challenges conventional narratives of professionalization by demonstrating that the identity of the ‘professional’ was often contested. At the same time, it shows that personae could be remarkably stable, especially in relation to race, class and gender assumptions. With chapters by Monika Baár, Ian Hunter, Q. Edward Wang and other recognized specialists, How to be a historian covers historical studies across Europe, North America, Africa and East Asia, throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, in liberal democracies and authoritarian regimes alike. The volume will appeal not only to readers of historiography, but to all historians who occasionally wonder: what kind of a historian do I want to be?

Open Access (free)
Post-concepts in historical perspective
Herman Paul

The introduction guides the reader through the goals of this volume and the methodological approach adopted in its chapters. Rather than offering an all-encompassing history of post-concepts, the volume aims to shed light on the meanings, nature and functions of the post-prefix in a broad array of post-constructions. The approach is threefold. First, the volume historicizes the use of the ‘post’ in the humanities and the social sciences. Second, the volume argues that post-concepts are always critical interventions in complex and often politicized societal and academic debates. As such, they do not typically describe distance or change from a root concept. Rather, they create such distance and change by allowing their users to re-periodize, reject or retool a root concept. Third, the volume facilitates a rapprochement between the social sciences and the humanities, including philosophy and theology. By systematically tracing post-concepts through the social sciences and humanities, the volume excavates a shared history replete with unexpected (biographical) connections, transfers and parallels between disciplines too often studied in isolation from one other. Underpinning the ambitions of this volume is a solid methodological framework comprising five interpretive principles upon which all chapters are based: positioning, performativity, transfer, interconnectedness and conceptual web.

in Post-everything
Historicist-inspired diagnoses of modernity, 1935
Herman Paul

‘“Post-Christian Era”? Nonsense!’ declared one of Europe’s foremost theologians, Karl Barth, in August 1948 at the first assembly of the World Council of Churches in Amsterdam. Barth’s criticism notwithstanding, ‘post-Christian’ was a term that rose to prominence in mid-twentieth-century diagnoses of modernity. From the 1930s onwards, growing numbers of Protestant and Catholic thinkers perceived Europe, or more broadly the Western world, as entering a ‘post-Christian’ phase. The post-prefix was deeply ambiguous, however. For some, it conveyed that Europe had broken with its Christian past – a break that could alternatively be interpreted as liberation or estrangement. Others, by contrast, used the post-prefix to argue that various emerging forms of ‘secularism’ were historically indebted to Europe’s Christian past. Thus, Arnold J. Toynbee told an Oxford audience in 1940 that liberalism, communism and fascism were all leaves ‘taken from the book of Christianity’. Surveying the career of ‘post-Christian’ in mid-twentieth-century Germany, France, England and the Netherlands (with a brief excursion to the United States), this chapter argues that the term was able to achieve prominence because the ‘post’ allowed for different kinds of self-positioning vis-à-vis ‘Christianity’ and ‘modern culture’. Interestingly, however, in almost all cases, these positioning strategies drew on historicist resources in portraying the modern ‘age’ or ‘era’ as a new epoch in the development of Western culture.

in Post-everything
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Scholarly personae: what they are and why they matter
Herman Paul

What are scholarly personae? To introduce this volume, this opening chapter explores the concept as it has been developed in various forms by Lorraine Daston and Peter Galison, by scholars around the journal Persona Studies, and by historians interested in ‘the scholarly self’. Central to the approach adopted in this volume is the question ‘what kind of a historian do I want to be?’ With examples from American and German historical studies, the chapter shows that answers to this question always draw on available templates or models of how to be a historian. Identifying these models as scholarly personae, the chapter goes on to argue that research on scholarly personae is most productive when it zooms in on how personae are appropriated, adapted and applied in concrete historical settings. Guiding questions are: What personae are available to historians at a given time and place? How do they use them and to what ends? What demands do personae make upon historians in terms of skills, virtues or habits they require? And to what extent does this differ across time, space and fields?

in How to be a historian
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Pairs of personae in nineteenth-century German historiography
Herman Paul

Language of virtue and vice, such as that used by nineteenth-century German historians, offers a glimpse on an often neglected aspect of historical studies – that of dispositions, character traits or virtues deemed necessary for pursuit of historical inquiry. The chapter shows that often-used phrases like ‘the first virtues of the historian’ invoked hierarchical constellations of virtues corresponding to distinct conceptions of the historian’s vocation, which may be called scholarly personae. From this it follows that personae can be historicized: they need not be seen as a modern conceptual tool, but as modern names for schematic models of virtue that nineteenth-century historians themselves already invoked. The chapter also argues that such personae tended to be associated with outstanding historians and often came in contrastive pairs: Schlosser vs Ranke, Waitz vs Sybel and Treitschke vs Lamprecht. What these examples also illustrate is that pairs of personae could change over time, in step with changing debates over the historian’s vocation and the virtues it demanded.

in How to be a historian
Open Access (free)
An intellectual history of post-concepts

What does it mean to live in an era of ‘posts’? At a time when ‘post-truth’ is on everyone’s lips, this volume seeks to uncover the logic of post-constructions – postmodernism, post-secularism, postfeminism, post-colonialism, post-capitalism, post-structuralism, post-humanism, post-tradition, post-Christian, post-Keynesian and post-ideology – across a wide array of contexts. It shows that ‘post’ does not simply mean ‘after.’ Although post-prefixes sometimes denote a particular periodization, especially in the case of mid-twentieth-century post-concepts, they more often convey critical dissociation from their root concept. In some cases, they even indicate a continuation of the root concept in an altered form. By surveying the range of meanings that post-prefixes convey, as well as how these meanings have changed over time and across multiple and shifting contexts, this volume sheds new light on how post-constructions work and on what purposes they serve. Moreover, by tracing them across the humanities and social sciences, the volume uncovers sometimes unexpected parallels and transfers between fields usually studied in isolation from each other.