Two Contrasting French Approaches to Historiography

HISTORY AND THEORY 53.1 (2014): 105-118

Georg Iggers brings a vast knowledge of historiographic trends to evaluate two French contributions surveying the state of the historical profession within the acclaimed Que sais-je? series. The first was published in 1981 by Charles-Oliver Carbell and the second in 2011 by Nicolas Offenstadt. The latter supposedly continues the former’s study by bringing it up-to-date, but as Iggers notes, they are very different approaches. The first is a very traditional survey of historical works, focusing on interpretive differences with little or no attention paid to historical theory. The latter is almost entirely organized around the different theoretical conceptions employed by historians to define their craft. Iggers notes that these differences reflect major trends or turns that have occurred in intellectual and cultural circles since the 1960s. He is surprised, however by the degree to which both studies ignore non-western historiographical trends in Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, given the purported breadth of the object of their study. That said, Offenstadt’s treatment of the foundations of historical work, its scientific and literary qualities, seem well worth the attention of readers. Here one can trace from Ranke to Dilthey to Braudel to Henri-Irenee Marrou to Hayden White, an interesting debate over source criticism, the linguistic turn, the nature of understanding or Verstehen, and the place of material and cultural factors. Professor Igger’s has nicely laid out themes of importance for those interested in gaining an understanding of the state of the field.