Hunt New Cultural History Intro

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  • The.. NeW Cu/-fvr-a( f.ftsi-ory, LyYJvi 1-!uvi+ C-e.d.\ 'P>e r\.
  • 2 Ly1111 H1111t

    currents were corning to the forc within that explanalory modt that prornoted historians' interest in social history. At the end of the 195os and early in the 196os, a group of younger Marxist historians began publishing books and articles on "history frorn below," including the by now canonical studies of George Rud on the .Parisian crowd, Albert Soboul on the Parisian sansculottes, and E. P. Thompson on the English working class. 3 With this inspiration, historians in the 196os and 197os turned from more traditional histories of political leaders and politi-cal institutions toward investigations of the social cornposition and daily life of workers, servants, wornen, ethnic groups, and the like.

    The Annales school, though a more recent inf!uence, carne to prominence at the sarne time. The original journal, Arma/es d'histoire co110111iq11e et socia/e, was founded in 1929 by Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre. It n1oved to Paris fron1 Slrasbt)urg in the 193os, and took its curren! name, Annales: Economies, So-cits, Civilisations, in 1946. The Annales becarne a school-or at leas! began to be so called-when it was institutionally affili-ated with the Sixth Section of the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Eludes after World War ll. Fernand Braudel provided a sense of unity and continuity by both presiding over the Sixth Section and directing the Annales in the 195os and 196os.' By the 197os, the prestige of the school was international; thc 1979 lnlcr-national Handbook of Historical Studies contained more index en-tries for the Annales school than for any other subject except Marx and Marxisrn.5

    But was there reZllly an Ann

  • 4 Lynn Hunt

    spread evento the more traditional historical journals. By 1972, economic and social history had replaced biography and reli-gious history as the largest categories after political history in the very conventional Revue historique.' The number of eco-nomic and social history articles in the U.S. journal French His-torcal Studies nearly doubled (from 24 to 46 percent) between 1965 and 1984.' Although I have looked carefully only at jour-nals of French history, I suspect that the same trend can be de-tected in most fields. E. H. Carr was notan Annales historian, but his words express the Annales position well: "Since the pre-occupation with economic and social ends represents a broader and more advanced stage inhuman development than the pre-occupation with political and constitutional ends, so the eco-nomic and social interpretation of history may be said to repre-sent a n1ore adv

  • 6 Lynn Hunt

    Marxist interest in culture may prove the rule. In his path-breaking collection of essays Languages of C/ass, Gareth Sted-man Jones tried to grapple with the inadequacies of the M;i rxist approach. ln discussing the Chartist language of class, he ob-serves: "What has not been sufficiently questioned is whether this language can simply be analysed in terms of its expression of, or correspondence to, the putative consciousness of a par-ticular class or social or occupational group." Likewise, he criti-cizes Thompson for assuming "a relatively direct relationship between 'social being' and 'social consciousness' which leaves litt!e independent space to the ideological context within which the coherence of a particular language of class can be recon-stituted." Yet by showing the importance of the ideological tra-dition of radicalism and of the changing character and policies of the state, Stedman Jones is in effect moving away from a Marxist an

  • 8 Lynn Hunt

    not believe that the social sciences could be united in inves-tigating the nature of man, precisely because he disavowed the very concept of "man" and the very possibility of method in the social sciences. lndeed, sorne cornrnentators have called his "genealogies" an "antirnethod." 23

    Although historians have been intrigued by Foucault's tren-chant criticisrns, they have not taken his rnethod-or anti-rnethod-as a rnodel for their practice. Foucault refused to offer causal analysis and denied the validity of any reductive relationship between discursive forrnations and their socio-political contexts-between changes in views of madness, for exarnple, and social and political changes in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century France. He vehernently argued against re-search in to origins, and his "genealogies" required none of the usual grounding in economcs, society, or politics. As a conse-quence, though his local insighls into lhL' funclioning of par-ticular institutions and types of discourse have generated con-siderable research (rnuch of it airning to correct Foucault's own often jerry-built constructions), his overall agenda rernains idiosyncratic. And how could it be otherwise, when Foucault described his version of history as one that "disturbs what was previously considered irnrnobile; ... fragments what was thought unified; ... shows the heterogeneity of what was irnag-ined consistent with itself," and when he proclairned that "I am well aware that 1 have never written anything but iictions"? Ad-rnittedly, he went on to say: "l do not mean to go so foras lo say that fictions are beyond truth [hors vrit]. It seems to me that it is possible to n1ake fiction work insid s , field of study."''' .

    The criticisms of Puret nd f)arnton strong!y w

  • 10 Lynn Hunt

    . But Furet and Darnton are in sorne ways unfair in thcir criti-c1sm, not. least because they themselves work in the genre they attack. H1stonans such as Chartier and Revcl have not simply proposed a new. set of topics for investigation; they have gone beyond mentalztes to question the methods and goals of history generally (wh1ch 1s why their work is so filled with prolegomena on method). They have endorsed Foucault's judgment that the very top1cs of the human sciences-man, madness, punish-ment, and sexuahty, for mstance-are the product of histori-cally contingent discursive formations. This radical critique has a bas1c problem, however, and that is its nihilistic strain. Where will we be when every practice, be it economic, intellectual, so-C!al, or. political, has been shown to be culturally conditioned? To put 1t another way, can a history of culture work if it is shorn of .JI theoretic~I. un1ptions pological model reigns supreme in cultural approaches. Rituds, carnivalesque inversions, and riles of passage are being fff_md in every country and almos! every century. The quantitative study of mentalits as the "third leve]" of social experience never had many followers outside of France. The influence in Anglo-Saxon and especially American approaches to the history of culture carne as much ( or even more) from English and English-trained social anthropologists as from an Annoles-style history of mcnta/ils. In her pioneering l'Ssays in Su1irly r111rl ( '11//11r. 11.r l:flr/y Mnrl

  • 12 Lynn Hunt

    sitive to the ways in which different groups, including women, use ritual and community to foster their own separate posi tions. Violence, in her view, can transform and redefine com munity as rnuch as it defines and consolidates it.

    In recent years, the rnost visible anthropologist in cultural historical work has been Clifford Geertz. His collection of es says The Interpretation of Cultures has been cited by historians working in a wide variety of chronological and geographical settings. 30 In The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, for exarnple, Robert Oarnton clearly stated the advantages of Geertzian interpretive strategies. Cultural his tory, he announced, is "history in the ethnographic grain .... The anthropological rnode of history ... begins frorn the prern ise that individual expression takes place within a general idiorn." As such, it is an interpretive science: its airn is toread "far n1eaning-the n1eaning inscribed by conternpor

  • Lyn11 Hunf

    symbolic action simply express a central, coherent. communal meaning. Nor must they forget that the texts they work with affect the reader in varying and individual ways. Documents describing past symbolic actions are not innocent, transparent texts; they were written by authors with various intentions and strategies, and historians of culture must devise their own strategies for reading them. Historians have always been criti-ca! about their documents: therein lies the foundation of his-torical method. Chartier goes further by advocating a criticism of documents based on a new kind of history of reading. He offers an example, with its emphasis on difference, in his essay "Texts, Printing, Readings" (chapter 6). Taking the sixteenth-century prologue to the Celestina as his point of departuce, Chartier shows that the meaning of texts in early nodern Eu-rope depended on a variety of factors, ranging fron1 the age of readers to typographiciJ innovations such as the n1LltiF)licmized approaches: in Fredric jameson's words, "old-fashioneC. 'in-terpretation,' which still asks the text whal it 111cans, and the newer kinds of analysis which .. -. ask how it works" (that is, in particular, deconstruction, a critica! approach closely associ-ated with ]acques Derrida)."' The former emphasizes unity; the latter, difference.

    Unity is made possible in interpretation" by what Jameson calls "an allegorical operation in which a text is systematically rewritten in terms of sorne fundamental master c\lde ur 'ulti-mately determining instance."' Following this line of reason-ing, VJl' n1ighl say th

  • L_11111 Jiunt

    Yct at thc san1c lin1L', ]I n>mmun1tv and at the same time to establish new fields of social, poltica!, and cultural struggle-that is, make possible unity and differ-ence at the same time. The point of the endeavor was to exam-he the ways in which linguis