The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past

The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past

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by Keith Windschuttle
     
 

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A major success in hardcover, The Killing of History argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorizing for real knowledge about the past. The result is revolutionary and

Overview

A major success in hardcover, The Killing of History argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorizing for real knowledge about the past. The result is revolutionary and unprecedented: contemporary historians are increasingly obscuring the facts on which truth about the past is built. In The Killing of History, Windschuttle offers a devastating expose of these developments. This fascinating narrative leads us into a series of case histories that demonstrate how radical theory has attempted to replace the learning of traditional history with its own political agenda.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The deliberately provocative title of this latest entry in the ongoing culture wars belies a reasonable, subtly argued if wide-ranging and at times unwieldy critique of contemporary historical theory. Australian author and lecturer Windschuttle contends that the introduction of fashionable academic "history" courses under such rubrics as cultural, media and gender studies are agenda-driven and have undercut the practices of history as a discipline. Windschuttle clearly subscribes to Roger Kimball's "tenured radicals" thesis, and places much blame for the decline in traditional history on postmodernist French literary and social theoristsabove all, Michel Foucault. In the introduction of theoretical approaches like structuralism, poststructuralism, deconstruction and semiotics, he says, contemporary radical theorists posit a cultural relativism that denies an objective, knowable truth about the past. The author argues that history is inherently empirical: that historians draw conclusions by inductive reasoning based on research, rather than by the application of preconceived theories. Each of the nine chapters examines a particular episode or issue and analyzes current trends in scholarship. For example, a chapter on the conquest of Mexico presents a fascinating overview of this event and various historians' interpretations of it. The author warns that "cultural relativism will never serve the real interests of indigenous peoples if it denies them access to the truth about the past." While these views will scarcely endear Windschuttle to the academics whose theoretical approaches he attacks, he largely succeeds in shedding more light than heat on some contentious issues. (Oct.) FYI: Other recent and upcoming books on the study of history include Michael Kammen's In the Past Lane (Forecasts, July 21), Gerda Lerner's Why History Matters (Feb. 3). Also upcoming is History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past by Gary B. Nash, Charlotte Crabtree and Ross E. Dunn.
Library Journal
Australian author and lecturer in history, social science, and media, Windschuttle presents an articulate, acerbic, sustained but balanced attack on postmodernist theory and its influence on the practice of history. After a survey of the major tenets of postmodern theory with its radical relativism, the author examines a series of case studies where the practice has been applied, such as Corts's conquest of Mexico, movie versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, and the Hawaiian system of signs in the interpretation of Captain Cook's existence. He also includes a long chapter on Foucault. Showing the inconsistencies, errors, contradictions, and illogic that resulted from the postmodernist approach, he ultimately argues that the relativism and rejection of empirical research by such theorists produces a tribalism that disarms the marginalized groups it proposes to liberate. While oriented toward Australian intellectual circles, this book is readily accessible and deserves a wide audience.Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
From Herodotus and Thucycdies down to the present day, historians strive to record the truth about the past. But historiography today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for the scholarly disciplines of historians and deny the existence of objective truth while substituting radically chic theorizing for documentable knowledge about the past. The Killing Of History: How Literary Critics And Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past is a badly needed, long overdue expose of what has been happening in academia and the popular culture for the past several decades with the replacement of traditional history with politically oriented historical revisionism as illustrated by the European discovery of American and the Spanish conquest of Mexico; the British discovery and exploration of the Pacific islands; the foundation of European settlement in Australia (including British exploration, the convict system and relations with the Aborigines); the history of mental asylums and penal policy in Europe; the expansion of the aristocracy of Western Europe in the Middle Ages; the Battle of Quebec in 1759; and the fall of Communism in 1989. The Killing Of History should be required reading for every student, teacher, and writer of history.
Kirkus Reviews
A historian's counterattack against fashionably radical Theory, which originated in comparative literature and cultural studies departments and invaded the study of history.

After lecturing in history and sociology at several Australian colleges and universities, Windschuttle has found that old- fashioned empiricism, objectivity, and humanism don't mix with new- fangled structuralism and postmodernism, or with European philosophy, e.g., works by Nietzsche, Heidegger, Lévi-Strauss, Foucault, and Derrida. With an eye to Alan Bloom's Closing of the American Mind (and Roger Kimball's Tenured Radicals), he has put together his own screed against the "new" history, which denies the possibility of historical truth, from New Historicism and Postcolonialism to semiotics and hermeneutics, with some examples of misinterpretations of Australian history, Columbus, Cortés, and captains Bligh and Cook. An avowed empiricist, Windschuttle passionately and methodically defends history as a true science rather than a branch of literary criticism or revolutionary sociology. But his writing is not as accessible or pointed as he might hope. His common-sense arguments against cultural relativism and radical skepticism frequently grade into the commonplace, the stuff of college seminar debates over Karl Popper's principle of falsifiability vs. Thomas Kuhn's paradigm shift. The Killing of History is best when debating the facts of history rather than theoretical differences. Citing works by fellow ordinary historians like Ganath Obeyesekere on Hawaii and Inga Clendinnen on the Aztecs, Windschuttle glosses over how Tzvetan Todorov misreads Montezuma's mindset, how Paul Carter mangles Australian history, and how Marshall Sahlins turns Captain Cook's death in Hawaii into a structuralist fantasy of ceremonial sacrifices.

An academic jeremiad against theory over practice, out to separate history as written by Gibbon or E.P. Thomson from historiography repackaged by littérateurs.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780684844459
Publisher:
Free Press
Publication date:
09/02/1997
Edition description:
1ST FREE P
Pages:
304
Product dimensions:
6.45(w) x 9.49(h) x 1.15(d)

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Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
If ony more books like this were avalibale, we would have known that the italic alphabet posted above the chalkboard in the past wasn't intended to be used as a guide to know the correct way to write a letter. History, when trying to find it, 'seems' (as the critics like to say) to wander out of the libraries when Im trying to find anything having to do with truth. It's not that we are not smart enough to discover truth within the myths and legends of cultures it's just unquestionable an we haven't been taught to do that. We prefer not to say anything because we are scared of being wrong like the theorists. The majority of students know that its never safe to assume and therefore are forced to tell only what they were told. We must keep in mind that history has a tendency to repeat itself. Personaly my only complant is that Im exauasted and that won't live long enough to find out more of what the general public should know already, I dare say good luck.