5.4 – Returning to Big History
5.4.1 History and the Temporal Turn: Returning to Causes, Effects and Diachronic Trends (2015), Pdf37
This essay, first published in 2015, welcomes the recent turn to long-term history, known as the Temporal Turn. Various implications follow. Historical periodisation is being reconsidered, to jettison outdated and rigid divisions. And attention is rightly returning to long-term causes, effects and trends – not forgetting deep continuities.
Can be read in conjunction with 5.4.6.
5.4.2 What on Earth is the ‘Temporal Turn’ and Why is it Happening Now? (BLOG/ 49, Jan., 2015)
A short review of the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of the intellectual return to studying history.
5.4.3 What Does the ‘Temporal Turn’ Mean in Practice – for Historians and Non-Historians Alike? (BLOG/ 50, Feb. 2015)
Can be read in conjunction with 5.4.1 and 5.4.2.
5.4.4 History Viewed Long (2008), Pdf2
This essay urges a return to including long-span (diachronic) History into the teaching syllabus at both secondary and tertiary level. History taught in fragments lacks its full meaning, if there is no long-term interpretative framework within which detailed studies can be located and debated. This text is also available on the Making History website of London University’s Institute of Historical Research. See too Interview with Penelope Corfield by Danny Millum (Aug. 2008), which appears in the same Making History website: www.history.ac.uk/makinghistory/resources/interviews/Corfield_Penelope.
Can be read in conjunction with 5.4.5.
5.4.5 Teaching History’s Big Pictures: Including Continuity as well as Change (2009), Pdf3
This essay considers why there has been a flight from looking at History over the long term, and advocates new ways of teaching students about History’s three dimensions, including deep continuities, gradual changes and revolutionary upheavals over time.
Can be read in conjunction with 5.4.1, 5.4.2, 5.4.3 and 5.4.4.
5.4.6 Historians & the Return to the Diachronic (2010), Pdf27
This essay, first published in 2010, reverts to an important theme for historical studies. In-depth analysis of short periods of micro-history is surely valuable. Yet micro-history means little without understanding the long-term frameworks of macro-history. Old models of inevitable progress or eternal class struggles are no longer convincing. Nor can theories of unremitting chaos or pure accident explain linked developments through time. This essay accepts that there were understandable reasons for the intellectual flight from diachronic history; but argues that the study of History must look for new and better ways to ‘think long’.
Can be read in conjunction with 5.4.1.
5.4.7 Time & the Historians in the Age of Relativity (2015), Pdf38
Historians study, not Time in the abstract, but the long-term workings of Time as evidenced in the past. But approaches to the subject show considerable variations, especially in the light of changing social, cultural and intellectual preoccupations. This essay specifically examines the twists and turns of twentieth-century attitudes to long-term history, after Einstein’s intellectual dethronement of absolute Time. Micro-history and in-depth analysis became prominent. Big grand themes of ‘Progress’ and/or the Marxist variant with the inevitable triumph of communism became outmoded and discredited. In the 1990s, there was even a brief ‘postmodernist’ moment of anti-history. But long-term studies are now back on the map. Adieu to Time nihilism and atemporality. Back to history in an integral Space-Time (or Time-Space, as some analysts, including PJC, prefer).
The essay ends with the speculative thought that temporality (or Baktin’s Great Time) seems to be something akin to a unique and dynamic form of super-energy, holding and unfolding everything together in Time-Space. Such an idea is clearly not proposed as a scientific formulation. It’s nearer to a poetic sense of the cosmos being sustained within its own elastic bubble of Time, which persists throughout even while moving steadily onwards at a regular pace. It is the pulse-beat of the universe.
Penelope J. Corfield
Penelope J. Corfield is a historian, lecturer and education consultant. She currently serves as the President of the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies (ISECS).
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