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“The Past in the Present: Mills, Tocqueville and the Necessity of History”



Historical sociology has achieved a reasonable degree of respectability in the discipline, and there is much interesting work being produced. But a pronounced aspect of much of this work is an indifference to the question of the value of studying the past as a way to understanding the present. This article argues that, rather than trying to outdo the historians by producing “better,” more theoretically sophisticated history, sociologists would better advance the case for historical sociology by showing how any particular historical study helps illuminate contemporary concerns. The article draws upon the writings of C. Wright Mills and Alexis de Tocqueville to show not just the need for historical sociology but also as indications of how this might best be done.