History of the Present

A new journal launched – details here. Thanks to Steve Legg for the link.

History of the Present is a journal devoted to history as a critical endeavor.  Its aim is twofold:  to create a space in which scholars can reflect on the role history plays in establishing categories of contemporary debate by making them appear inevitable, natural or culturally necessary; and to publish work that calls into question certainties about the relationship between past and present that are taken for granted by the majority of practicing historians.  Its editors want to encourage the critical examination of both history’s influence on politics and the politics of the discipline of history itself.   The journal’s object is to showcase articles that exemplify the practice of what might be called theorized empirical history.  It is in the actual writing of history, based on mainly on archival evidence, that our contributors will offer readers an alternative to approaches that predominate in existing journals.  A good number of established and new scholars in the United States and abroad are doing exciting and important archivally based historical writing of this sort.  No history journal currently published, however, has devoted itself specifically to fostering this work and providing a dedicated forum for it.

The journal’s aim is to provide an intellectual space for historical scholarship that is explicitly political, but not in the usual sense of that word.  The point is to link the present to the past not as its inevitable outcome, but as the contingent product of changes in relationships of power and in the ideas through which such relationships are conceived.   We are less interested in articles that concentrate on the affairs of governments or politicians than in those that analyze the operations of power. We will seek work that approaches power not from a position of  simple moralism, not as a denunciation of past injustices or an exposure of the ways the powerful have oppressed or victimized their “others.”  Nor will we look for work that seeks to right the balance of past mistreatment, showing, for example, that those thought to be without power–women or homosexuals or colonial subjects or workers– indeed had “agency.”  Rather, we will look for articles that analyze power relationships in their complexity: how are they established and justified?  How has  history been used to legitimize or challenge them?  So, for example, rather than publishing a piece making the familiar argument that a “clash of civilizations” of long standing is at the heart of politics in the Middle East, we would invite contributors to ask how that idea is used to reduce the complexities –economic, social, religious, political, international–that structure the conflicts and so make sharp partisan divisions possible.

Our belief is that the categories that historians use in a common sense way often contribute to the solidification of relationships of power.  By founding a journal dedicated to work that examines these categories, by providing a new space in which their history becomes visible, we expect to open a lively conversation among our contributors and readers about what is–and has been–at stake in their different and varied usages.  So, by writing about “women” and “men,” not as known biological beings who have different “experiences” in time, but as themselves historical categories (even the biology is differently conceived), the articles we publish will offer a better understanding of how difference (in this case sexual difference) is differently constructed.  Or, to take other examples that some of us work on, the concepts of fever, stranger, bureaucracy, incest, race, citizen, nationalism, the secular, and the universal can all be treated historically. When they are, new insight emerges into the changing meanings and uses of these concepts, and into how, in different contexts and at different historical moments, they serve different kinds of political ends. This in turn provides new perspectives on how we think about and practice politics. In this way, the history of the present opens the way to differently imagining the future.

A journal that takes this approach inevitably challenges the discipline of history’s standards for what constitutes experience and evidence, as well as what counts as acceptable analytic frames (progress, dialectical change, determinations of the present by the past).  We are particularly interested in publishing work that pushes these traditional boundaries of acceptability.   In this sense, History of the Present will provide a space similar to that offered by differences, Critical Inquiry, Representations and Public Culture, but with a disciplinary focus on history.  (These journals sometimes do publish the kind of articles we have in mind, but not systematically, not with history as their focus.)  Ours is a journal of historical practice, publishing authors who write innovative and exciting critically theorized history. We think that a highly visible journal of rigorously theorized history that cuts against the grain of established disciplinary norms will contribute both to history and theory.  In this, we are inspired in part by a French journal published between 1975 and 1985, Les Révoltes Logiques.  Its object was to marry philosophy and history through archival work that disrupted “the false testimony of linear history” and challenged contemporary certainties and prevailing political categories of analysis. Although inspired by  Les Révoltes Logiques, History of the Present is not an attempt to resurrect that journal.  Instead, it speaks to a need we are acutely aware of among ourselves and our colleagues: to provide a critical space for historians and other scholars who think theoretically about and through the past.

We take seriously the influence of poststructuralism, but History of the Present is not a poststructuralist or postmodern journal.  It is not meant to push a particular theoretical line.  Articles will, of course, be informed by Derridean or Foucauldian or psychoanalytic or Marxist theory, but only as any of those theories contribute to the writing of history as critique.  To this end, the journal will not specify the geographical areas or social groups or the chronological boundaries worthy of representation in its pages; it will not make hasty judgments about the value of different historical approaches. Moreover, the journal will be interdisciplinary, provided the approach of the articles is historical. We will welcome all sorts of history–social, cultural, economic, political, intellectual, etc, if it is explicitly theorized. To the extent that what matters in the contemporary world is often secured through reference to the past, we agree with Foucault that history is a potentially productive space for fostering critical thinking.  As he put it, “The game is to try to detect those things which have not yet been talked about, those things that, at the present time, introduce, show, give some more or less vague indications of the fragility of our system of thought, in our way of reflecting, in our practices.”

This entry was posted in Michel Foucault, Publishing. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s