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  • The History of Historiography

    Posted on August 31st, 2014 hungyin No comments

    It is interesting to see how historians identified their topics, chose their subjects, and how they wrote. Both Tosh’s and Lggers’s works provide many works, theories and research methods to show changes of historiography. Thus it brings me a clear picture of “the history of historiography.” The most interesting thing for me is agenda of historians. There are differences between Tosh’s from Lgger’s history of historiography, but generally they show a historiographical trend from studying elite to ordinary people, from politic to society/economic, from national state to local or global history, and from serving political purpose to non-political purposes.

    More importantly, it makes me to reflect myself to think why/how I identify my topic and why/how I write history. To some extent, the story by Tosh and Lgger is an Europe-American central, liner story to tell us how historiography become a discipline and how it has so many directions. As I start to map myself, I realize that as a historical researcher, I am not yet at that stage. Many Taiwanese historians still work on building an imaged community to make a national state, while we also learn from Europe-America about microhistory and other “new” history. Recently there is a huge debate of our history textbook – should we focus on broader Chinese history or on local Taiwanese history. This debate is not only about “should official history be broad or local history” but also about “should Taiwan be part of China or an independent entity.”

    Another debate is about how to represent White Terror during 1949 to 1987. A solution of this debate is to drop off contemporary history, which means put less history after World War II because that is highly controversial. When I read contemporary history section in Tosh’s book, I cannot stop to think when Taiwanese historians can start to touch contemporary local history.

    Novak and Ward track how a story was told. Their studies are impressive as they show “the disjunction between historical perception and political reality” (Novak, p.753) and how historical writing has changed to shape perception. I think this issue connects to textbook issue above. We are still struggling on whether history serves political purposes, and if it does, there will be this kind of disjunction, which historiography now will avoid.

    I enjoy the readings this week as they trigger my reflection, thinking about my agenda and writing style. As a researcher who work on Japanese colonization, I may still have to involve in the historiographical debate in Taiwan someday in future.



    19 responses to “The History of Historiography” RSS icon

    • Hi Hungyin,

      I enjoyed reading your post this week and had to Google White Terror because it is something I am unfamiliar with. I know you said in my blog that there is starting to be more openness in Taiwanese historical research, so do you think that open discussions about this time period in historical discourse are coming soon? I am reminded of the section in Ch. 2 of Tosh on “history as therapy” and how Mikhail Gorbachev “realized how crippling the psychological burden of the past was as long as it remained buried,” and therefore hesitantly allowed researches access to archives from the Stalinist era (36). You implied that historical research on contemporary history in Taiwan would be a good thing; is this because you think it could provide some healing?


    • I’m looking for my “like” button – both for this post and Claire’s query about it. Hung-Yin, I’m so glad you brought up the issue of “terrible histories” and the temptation to silence the past when it’s too painful. We will all be interested in your thoughts about the “weak” American state from your perspective and knowledge of historical study in Taiwan. And as a historian of the Soviet period, I very much appreciate your concern about those silences, and the challenges of bringing the recent past out of the shadows.

    • Hungyin,

      I want to second everything everyone before me has commented, and also commend you on writing a post that has actually challenged me to look at the week’s readings from a different perspective. I too had to look up the White Terror, and draw many parallels between those events and events that have occurred in other parts of the world that have either been left out of history in text entirely, or that have only just begun to be reintroduced of recognized as having occurred. In fact, last year I did a project that involved the Rwandan Genocide, and how a very fragmented area is trying to refigure it’s identity and understand it’s own history in the aftermath of such dark events.

      I tend to agree with the concept that Claire mentioned about “history as therapy”, because I believe that in order to fully understand ourselves, our nations, or our culture, we have to be blatantly honest about the events that have occurred through time–the good and the bad. I believe the biggest challenge is figuring out a way to do so, especially when confronting events like the Rwandan genocide or the White Terror, the effects of which are still very fresh and unfolding.

    • Your question about whether history serves political purposes reminds me of the phrase I’m sure we’ve all heard: “without learning history we’re doomed to repeat it,” or some variation. That sentiment kind of drives me crazy because it seems to imply that history never changes, which clearly we’ve learned is false!! For a historian, what an irresponsible thought! Even looking just at Ward’s article we can see that the perception of historical events can drastically change with the progression of not only new evidence but how we “do” history. Moving from the present to the future, it’s impossible to believe that we will constantly repeat what has already happened in our history in one way or another.

    • Like Claire and Carmen I had to look up White Terror because I did not know what the term referred to in Taiwanese history. Looking at the historical depiction, or lack thereof, of a controversial event as it happens is fascinating. I also agree it could serve to help heal the wounds of the past and allow a people and country to move past the event. I wonder how long it would take for historians to examine this controversial subject. Once the door is open to this research I am sure historians will have decades of work ahead of them. It reminds me of another book I recently read on the Colfax Massacre during the Reconstruction era, Redemption, by Nicholas Lemann. The book was published in 2006 and tells the story of an ugly part of America’s past some 130+ years after the event occurred. This story, like White Terror, deserves attention despite its controversial nature. Thanks Hungyin for the post!

    • Shaw and Hollings reveal a disconnect at the heart of the American experience – a tension
      between the story Americans like to narrate themselves about individualism, self-reliance,
      voluntarism, associationalism, free labor, and the free market and the actual history of the “concrete
      national institutions,” as Shaw put it, that have been capable of wielding such broad interventionist,
      coercive, and regulatory power at home as well as abroad.

    • I usually never liked reading articles on blogs
      but for this blog I want to say that this writing really forced me to try and do it!
      Your taste in writing has surprised me.
      Thank you, very good article.

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