Nicholas Popper‘s new book is a thoughtfully crafted and rich contribution to early modern studies, to the history of history, and to the history...

Nicholas Popper‘s new book is a thoughtfully crafted and rich contribution to early modern studies, to the history of history, and to the history of science. Walter Ralegh’s History of the World and the Historical Culture of the Late Renaissance (University of Chicago Press, 2012) takes readers into the texture of Walter Ralegh’s masterwork and the textual and epistemic practices through which he used the past to understand and offer counsel on the events of the present. Ralegh passed seven of his many years of incarceration in the Tower of London excerpting, rearranging, editing, and recopying passages from his 500+ volume library to produce a book that has been read and interpreted in many different (and sometimes conflicting) ways in the hundreds of years since its initial printing.

Popper’s book uses a very focused account of the texture of this single book as a basis from which to offer a wonderfully expansive account of the practices of history in the Renaissance, and the ways that Ralegh’s work and associated practices of historical analysis ultimately transformed European politics, religion, and scholarship. Along the way, there are fascinating accounts of the origins of the modern archival mode of historiography, the differences between causal and narrative accounts of the past, and the many ways that early modern historical practices were inextricable from scriptural exegesis. Popper’s study is both inspired by the methods and insights of the historiography of science, and offers a way to think about the practices of knowledge-production that help identify what we’re talking about when we talk about early modern “science.” Enjoy!

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