One of the standard characteristics of contemporary historiography is its object: the past. Yet, as most historians are aware, this “object” has been notoriously difficult to grasp. Consider the reflections of the historian Marc Bloch and the philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty.
In The Historian’s Craft Bloch observes that “the very idea that the past as such can be the object of science is ridiculous. How, without preliminary distillation, can one make of phenomena, having no other common character than that of being not contemporary with us, the matter of rational knowledge?” In the Phenomenology of Perception Merleau-Ponty argues that “reflection does not itself grasp its full significance unless it refers to the unreflective fund of experience which it presupposes, upon which it draws, and which constitutes for it a kind of original past, a past which has never been present.” Both writers, then, find a gap between the past as such and the mediation of the past in the present. To Michel de Certeau in The Writing of History, modern western historiography “begins with the differentiation between the present and the past.” Continue reading “THE PAST AND HISTORY: BLOCH AND MERLEAU-PONTY”