Historical Awareness

Historical Awareness and the Historical Continuum
In The Pursuit of History, John Tosh describes historical awareness as a sense of history that avoids some of the interpretive distortions to historical events, like blatant nationalism, that personal or social memory and its justifications often produce. According to Tosh, the three constitutive elements of such awareness are: “historical empathy,” which fosters sensitivity to differences between actors in various historical periods; contextualization of the numerous intersections of a group’s everyday existence so as to provide a full understanding of a particular event or historical situation; and process, the significance that the unfolding of time lends to events. This processural ‘historical continuum’ “cuts both ways: just as nothing has remained the same in the past, so too our world is the product of history” (Tosh 2010, 12). Cultural historian, Mieke Bal, advances this idea of a continuum that expresses mutual effects on the past and the present through an exploration of the interplay between baroque art and contemporary artworks that “quote,” that is, utilize images from the baroque era. Like Tosh, Bal asks whether baroque images illuminate contemporary art and also, therefore, the present, or the contemporary sheds light on the baroque era. Like the baroque iconic draping cloth that obscures the object to be viewed, Bal considers the baroque as a means to understand the contemporary. This analogy seems to be a good place to begin to question the idea of the mutual cut of the historical processural historical continuum.

One thought on “Historical Awareness”

  1. I like the analogy presented by this post. I would have never made the connection between two types of art so it was nice to read a unique take on Tosh’s “historical continuum.” I would think that both baroque and contemporary are a means to understand each other. Could one exist without the other? This may connect it to Tosh’s argument in a better way. Can the new history exist without the old. Certainly the fact that previous historians learned and fostered historical distortions and if this is the case, then this history has to have some influence on the revised versions currently accepted. This makes our history a product of history. I hope my ramblings made some sort of sense, especially with regard to the art.

    David

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