This contribution to part 4 of the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies: On the Consequence of Blur” shows how the reputedly radical position that history is not about eternal truths but about the creative construction of a convincing narrative of past events is not an argument of recent vintage. In the days when postmodernism was a technical term used mainly by scholars of art and architecture—and indeed, decades before then—professional historians were grappling with the incapacity of facts to write themselves into a universally satisfying, single version of history. Successive presidents of the American Historical Association such as Andrew Dickson White, Carl Becker, Charles Beard, and William McNeill admitted that writing history is a desperate attempt at pattern recognition in a fuzzy discipline. Pattern recognition is a tool, valuable as a stage in historical thinking, but destined ultimately to come undone. What remains, then, is fuzzy thinking. It can be a good thing, the article concludes, to let our thinking about history remain a blur or, at least, to bear in mind that any patterns we recognize in the past are liable to dissolve under a different light.
David S. Katz; HISTORY FROM WAY ABOVE: Recognizing Patterns through the Fuzz and Fog of the Past. Common Knowledge 1 January 2013; 19 (1): 40–50. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0961754X-1815642
Download citation file: