chapter  5
23 Pages

Method and the tools of thought

Historical explanation, as it is now almost universally understood in the West, rests on the common denominator values that characterize modernity. Histor - ians treat these values as if they were universally valid and rarely acknowledge them. At the same time, however, challenges to the possibility of any such universal common denominators has been developing across the range of practice for more than a century and cannot profitably be explained away or trivialized. These challenges pose a problem for historians that goes to the heart of their enterprise. And we are all historians in the sense that we assume the method and its associated ideas, and we rely on professional historians not to lead us down a methodological dead end. Assuming that historians can get past the trivializing definitions of the “postmodern” that plague discussion in the United States, ethical practice would involve at least some acknowledg - ment of the historicity of history: of the fact that history is one method among others, chosen for explicit purposes, and having particular associated ideas about identity, causality, time, and particular cultural functions. Some attempt might even be made to explore alternative methods of approaching “the past.” This chapter defines some key terms of such a discussion and addresses the question, often implied but rarely addressed directly, what alternative methods, if any, might be available to historians wanting to renew conventional historical writing for the Discursive Condition?