A historian's counterattack against fashionably radical Theory, which originated in comparative literature and cultural...


THE KILLING OF HISTORY: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past

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, Lâvi-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, Cortâs, 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 littârateurs.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1997


Page Count: 304

Publisher: Free Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1997

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