THE SUPERHISTORIANS by John Barker

THE SUPERHISTORIANS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

On the grounds that history is never just history, but always somebody's history, Trent University (Ontario) historian Barker focuses on 13 pivotal figures--some predictable and some not, some who exemplify reason (the Greek legacy), some of a visionary bent (the Old Testament heritage). Herodotus and Thucydides easily qualify. So does Augustine, since he gave us the Christian, linear concept of history. Petrarch stands out for his return to classical sources, Machiavelli for his concern with bringing out the past to bear on the present. Voltaire's universal history represents the Enlightenment belief in progress. Then comes a refreshing choice: Walter Scott, first of the historical novelists--whose Romantic works enshrined his country's past. The German historian Ranke is commonly credited with founding modern scientific historical method through archival research; but he too, Barker shows, infused an idea into his writing--the centrality of individuals in history. The significance of Marx's economic interpretation of history needs no elaboration. Nietzsche is an outside choice--important for his critical view of science and progress, not for a direct contribution to historical work. The last three ""superhistorians"" especially reflect the catholic, even eclectic nature of Barker's choices. W. E. B. DuBois is included for his chainpioning of black and African history, and his rejection of racial theories--contributions to empirical history, though not to the interpretive history Barker generally emphasizes. The fatalist Toynbee and the futurist Wells, on the other hand, each had a singular vision--and both were disparaged by professional historians. The last, catchall chapter on the frontier thesis ends the book with a thud--meanwhile ignoring the work of Fernand Braudel and the so-called Annales school, certainly the outstanding effort to remake historical writing of the past half-century. But Barker presents his material in an easy, popular fashion without trivialization or oversimplification; so the lay reader will find his introductions illuminating at the least, and the very range of his choices provocative.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Scribners