Historiography, and its multiple definitions, has become essential in the approach to history today. Indeed, from the Internet to memorial laws, through the political exploitation of figures or historical events, history does not belong solely to the historian. In addition, it is a science that is undergoing many changes, with the emergence of world history, the history of the genre or Postcolonial Studies. The book by Nicolas Offenstadt, Historiography (PUF, coll. What do i know?), updates these evolutions.
Definition (s) of historiography
In his introduction, Nicolas Offenstadt returns to the definition of historiography in the previous What do i know on the subject, published in 1981. The author, Charles-Olivier Carbonell, defined his subject as : "The history of the discourse [...] that men have held on the past, on their past". Another contemporary work, written by G. Bourdé and H. Martin, spoke of "The examination of the different discourses of the historical method and of the different ways of writing history". We can speak of canonical definitions, and N. Offenstadt wants to go beyond them.
He therefore insisted on the need to talk about " practice ", not just speeches, and "Situate historians in their time". Indeed, the public use of history has become democratized since the 1980s, with "The multiplication of producers of history", pushing the historian "To de-build itself". Moreover, historiography as a reflection on history by historians has become "A particular field of the history discipline [in several countries]".
N. Offenstadt therefore suggests seeing historiography as a discipline which "Is interested today in historians, their conception of history, their method, and their production, as well as the uses of history". His book focuses on "The historiography of history as a discipline with its rules and methods, even disputed and discussed", Without forgetting "To evoke what was the writing of the past before being a profession and discipline [...]".
Historiography by N. Offenstadt
The author cuts out his What do i know ? in eight chapters. The first six are, at first glance, classic, but N. Offenstadt adds a number of new reflections to them, in line with his other works or his activity at the CVUH. This is even more the case in the last two.
The first chapter deals with the relationship between "Historians and time", the latter being "Subject of work [and] methodological question". First of all "The time of the actors", with for example "Regimes of historicity", then the "Time of the historian" itself, with the question of the division of time (we know the debates on the use of chronology in school), and "Multiple temporalities" where obviously the author mentions Fernand Braudel.
The second chapter, "Historians, documents and their criticism", is interested in the heart of the business: the relationship to sources. We need them "Collect and [them] criticize", while adapting to the emergence of new types of sources, or to a kind of documentary explosion thanks to new technologies.
Chapter III discusses a recurring debate: is history a science? We are here in what we are used to in works on historiography: scientism, Marx, ... But the part on "The birth of the profession" brings something more certain, as does the reflection on the neutrality of historical science and "The construction of the national novel".
The fourth chapter is one of the most interesting. It raises the question of the writing of history (with, among others, the famous Michelet case, but also Marrou and Duby), and the place of the story, "Construction of the historian". The main reference here is, of course, Paul Veyne.
Through the example of Annals, then their posterity, and pushing as far as the relations between historians and Bourdieu, N. Offenstadt questions himself in the fifth chapter on the links between history and the social sciences, particularly sociology. Where we see that we are more and more interdisciplinary.
The sixth chapter, "Cut out and classify: the scales and categories of historians", enters more precisely in the Profession, and in the questions on the categories brought by "The Foucault tourbillon". It is here also that N. Offenstadt evokes the history of the genre, global history, micro-history and Postcolonial and Subaltern Studies.
The last two chapters are more specifically in line with other works by N. Offenstadt. First, a " zoom (sic)» on the history of war (and of peace), and more broadly of violence (with, for example, the work of Claude Gauvard, who was his thesis supervisor). Finally, the chapter "Memories, struggles and stories" is to be brought back to what N. Offenstadt is doing within the framework, among others, of the CVUH. These are fundamental questions about the relationship between memory and history, the critique of the national novel or the historian and engagement.
Notice of History for all
Like the others What do i know?, N. Offenstadt's book is synthetic but dense, while being clear and easily accessible. It is a perfect introduction to historiography, before looking further still, as the author invites us in a bibliography to salute. The ideal is to use Historiography in parallel with the two volumes in which N. Offenstadt participated (in collaboration with C. Delacroix, F. Dosse and P. Garcia): Historiographies. Concepts and debates.
- N. Offenstadt, Historiography, PUF, coll. Que sais-je ?, 2011, 127 p.