WHAT TYPE OF HISTORIAN? CONCEPTUAL HISTORY AND THE HISTORY OF CONCEPTS: A COMPLEX LEGACY AND A RECENT CONTRIBUTION
Article first published online: 1 OCT 2012
© 2012 Wesleyan University
History and Theory
Volume 51, Issue 3, pages 411–422, October 2012
How to Cite
Cuttica, C. (2012), WHAT TYPE OF HISTORIAN? CONCEPTUAL HISTORY AND THE HISTORY OF CONCEPTS: A COMPLEX LEGACY AND A RECENT CONTRIBUTION. History and Theory, 51: 411–422. doi: 10.1111/j.1468-2303.2012.00636.x
- Issue published online: 1 OCT 2012
- Article first published online: 1 OCT 2012
- conceptual history;
- intellectual history;
Javier Fernández Sebastián's edited collections of essays, Political Concepts and Time, is both a critical homage to the monumental work of Reinhart Koselleck (1923–2006) and an important contribution to the methodology of history-writing. Centered on the polysemic nature of concepts, which are read as “‘vehicles for thought’” studied in their pragmatic and communicative applications in society, Political Concepts and Time provides a stimulating analysis of the role, weight, and future of conceptual history.
Its thirteen essays offer an account of problems, questions, and debates on the interplay of words and concepts, meaning and historical change, context and discourse. They endeavor to clarify the complicated and perennially unresolved relationship between theory and practice. In order to do so, Fernández Sebastián has assembled a scholarly composite and broadly international group of specialists from a variety of disciplines and research fields.
With the intellectual legacy of Koselleck's Begriffsgeschichte looming large, this book rethinks the ways in which not just historians but also social scientists and philosophers study the past as the expression of contingent, ever-changing, and revocable semantic units shaping the culturally plural worlds we inhabit. Informed by the idea that history is porous, Political Concepts and Time also deals with the perhaps obvious but no less challenging issue of our approach to time as everyday experience and through its representation(s).
Together with exploring the volume's specific historical topics, this essay will highlight some of its limitations and, above all, will respond to its criticism of intellectual history. The following pages will thus argue the case for the latter methodological perspective by reflecting on the type of historian it delineates. Claiming that in their investigation of past meanings intellectual historians make use of creative imagination, the essay will suggest that this model of history-writing leads to a better understanding of multiple sources and that it might ultimately help overcome some of the inconsistencies and often simplistic divisions between various branches of the historiographical tree. In particular, a small proposal to reconcile conceptual and intellectual history will be advanced.