Public Uses of History: Expectations and Ambiguities

Jacques Revel in Transformations of the Public Sphere:

ScreenHunter_04 Feb. 19 14.25In 1876, the first issue of the Revue historique was published in Paris. The birth of the journal is commonly seen as a founding moment. History was now defined as a professional discipline, with explicit scientific and more precise methodological requirements, with specific and codified forms of training and a strong sense of academic community. There is nothing here that is specific to France: actually, the German model of historical erudition had inspired a number of national communities in Europe and outside Europe. On the occasion of the first issue of the new Revue, one of the directors, Gabriel Monod, a leading figure of the time, addressed future contributors. In his editorial, he recommended “avoiding contemporary controversies, addressing the subjects of their studies with the methodological rigor and absence of bias required by science, and not seeking arguments for or against any theory involved indirectly only.” Monod then explained the insufficient progress of the discipline in France as resulting from “political and religious passions” which, “in the absence of scientific tradition” had not been curbed. Hence the utmost restraint was called for. A new time was open to science, method and objectivity after decades of tense, dense, and exhausting ideological conflicts on the French Revolution, the absolute monarchy and the conflicting relations between Church and State over centuries. Historians would better choose to cool their objects of study down and avoid contemporary topics. Distancing the past now was a pressing requirement.

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