The Past as History
National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Modern Europe
Palgrave Macmillan 2014
A historiographical paradigm opened in the late 1970s with groundbreaking works on nationalism. To a large extent these were constructivist interpretations, which drew heavily on literary criticism. Since then it is commonplace to speak of national myths and master narratives. If it is true that the owl of Minerva flies at dusk, then the appearance of Stefan Berger‘s masterful survey of national history writing in Europe may indicate that we have reached the end of this critical project. His book The Past as History: National Identity and Historical Consciousness in Modern Europe (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014) certainly attempts a summation.
As Berger argues, the nation has formed the key framework of modern history writing. Because his book discusses most of the best known European historians of the past three centuries, it will be of interest to a broad range of readers. It is fitting to discuss this work in “New Books in Intellectual History” because its aim is not to correct the errors of past historians, but rather to uncover their underlying philosophies of history and the institutional and political contexts in which they wrote. Whether we are today indeed in a postnational phase of the historical craft is a topic we discuss in the following interview.
Stefan Berger is Professor of Social History and Director of the Institute for Social Movements, Ruhr University Bochum, Germany.