"Religion, Tolerance, and Science in Early Modern Europe"
Wijnand W. Mijnhardt was promoted to professor in Comparative History of Science during a ceremonial occasion last Thursday. During his oration, Mijnhardt spoke about the intellectual attempt by Jean Fréderic Bernard and Bernard Picart to unite all world religions into one system of tolerance, which was to be based on a scientific foundation (picture shows frontispiece of "Tafereel van de Voornaamste Godsdiensten der Waereldt" by Picart (1727), the main religions of the world).
Mijnhardt argued that the history of science should not only focus on the discovery of new knowledge by astronomical observations or laboratory experiments (which it largely had up until now), but also by intellectual developments in libraries, at sea, and in society.
"Religion, Tolerance, and Science in Early Modern Europe"
It took a while, it took a new gmail account, of course it also took a strike of artistic genius. Nevertheless, here it is..... my artwork from the Science and modernity I presentation. It is probably the first blogpublished HCSSH artwork, certainly a milestone. And I will name it: 'Man in space', well for now that is maybe I'll come up with something even more telling. Untill the day, watch, interpret, contemplate and let yourself be inspired.
About the work: It was completed in March 2008. Like all great works of art it took considerable time and effort to translate the artist's vision into a meaningful composition, in this case it nearly took an entire hour. Note the movement the artist instilled in the work using various techniques of colouring. Also the figure in the foreground seems to have been kept to a simple outline underlining the universality of the figure's condition. An HCSSH student sharply noted the resemblence to works of Giacometti. Altough, such parallels could certainly be identified, the piece itself could best be categorised as a blend of styles and techniques such as collage, impressionism and existentialist features. Throughout the 2007/2008 year of HCSSH it is regard as the most outstanding piece ever produced by the group. However, this is not only because it is the only piece produced by the group thusfar.
This proposal aims to fill a conspicuous gap in our knowledge of nineteenth-century Dutch science. It concerns the sizeable Dutch participation in attempts to create global Humboldtian scientific networks in the period 1820-1880. In spite of the scope and importance of these scientific investigations, historians of science have so far tended to focus their attention on the rise of laboratory science culminating in the so-called Second Golden Age, thereby creating a one-sided view of nineteenth-century Dutch science and of its international dimension.
Named after its initiator Alexander von Humboldt, this type of research involved the systematic recording of measurements of natural phenomena across extensive areas, often through international collaboration. Its ultimate objective was to find the natural laws that governed the phenomena under investigation. Dutch representatives of Humboldtian research included Gerrit Moll, contributing to the study of tides by William Whewell in Britain; Richard van Rees, cooperating with Adolphe Quetelet in Belgium on meteorological research; Willem Wenckebach, cooperating in geomagnetic projects by Carl Friedrich Gauss in Germany; M.H. Jansen, collaborating on ocean currents with Matthew Fontaine Maury in the USA; F.J. Stamkart, triangulating The Netherlands as part of the Europäische Gradmessung; and C.H.D. Buys Ballot, engaged in multiple international meteorological networks. These Dutch participants often acted as nodes connecting local and national networks to the international networks. The significance of the Dutch activities within this period can be illustrated by the database of meteorological measurements compiled through the ‘Universal Abstract Log’ initiated by Jansen and Buys Ballot. Between 1854 and 1880 Dutch contributions comprised the bulk of the global meteorological data acquisitioning effort at sea, resulting in vast records that are used up to the present day. The graph bellow illustrates this:
b. Research question(s)
The large-scale participation of Dutch scientists in international Humboldtian networks in the nineteenth century will be submitted to an historical analysis aimed at finding an answer to the following question:
What were the critical technological, social, political and cultural parameters that led to successful international networks of production and circulation of knowledge?
In order to answer this question the research project will address the following three issues. However, it must be stressed that these issues are closely interrelated. Therefore, they cannot be dealt with separately in the execution of the project.
1. The social, political and cultural background
This study will investigate the Dutch cultivation of Humboldtian science in the nineteenth century. In order to do so, the scientific fields in which Humboldtian research was executed will be mapped out. Through a survey of the Dutch scientific community of the period the participants in this type of research will be identified. The main factors in the surge of enthusiasm among Dutch men of science with regard to the Humboldtian study of earthly phenomena will be analysed. Which values did Humboldtian science represent for them and how did these values resonate with contemporaneous cultural shifts? How and where did they obtain the skills to perform precision measurements? To what extent did these measurements serve the interests of centralizing states and expanding commercial enterprises? Here, in short, the political, social and cultural factors in the development and growth of Humboldtian research in the Dutch scientific community will be analysed.
This study will also pay attention to the related issue of the funding of these extensive and often costly Humboldtian projects. This requires an analysis of correspondences between scientists, learned societies, and government officials. The role played by the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences in the funding of projects will be explored. Although most of these Humboldtian projects were state funded, this usually required extensive negotiating. Throughout the nineteenth century the Dutch state proved notoriously unresponsive to pleas for support of scientific research. The case of Buys Ballot’s meteorological enterprises may serve to illustrate a spectre of possibilities. He invested part of his own considerable means, borrowed instruments from the university cabinet, solicited financial support from learned societies and a state subsidy before the government finally adopted his enterprise. In his contacts with the government Buys Ballot played two cards. Firstly, he stressed the practical benefits for seaborne trade by promising shorter and safer journeys. Secondly, he pointed to the international prestige the Dutch would gain by taking the initiative in international meteorology.
2. Establishing local networks
The second issue this research project will tackle concerns the implementation of Humboldtian scientific undertakings. The nature of these sciences typically required the assistance of large numbers of observers in order to systematically take simultaneous measurements and to gather observational data across extensive areas. It appears that scientists used different, often creative, means to recruit observers. In Britain for instance, the meteorologist Glaisher placed announcements in the press to invite volunteer observers in taking measurements. Buys Ballot likewise used the popular press, but he also called upon colleagues and local societies. Moreover, he appealed to seafaring communities to obtain meteorological data at sea.
This study will explore the ways in which various groups of observers were recruited. Typical partners in these Humboldtian projects were university professors, civil engineers, members of learned societies, shipping companies, and navy and army officers. If the state acted as patron, which it often did, either paid experts or military men would be commissioned to execute the project. The extensive and pervasive role of the military in Humboldtian projects of all sorts is a topic that has as yet been hardly explored, a neglect that this study aims to remedy.
Besides the recruitment of observers, this research project aims to investigate how participants were disciplined through the use of common standards and units, the gauging and comparing of instruments, and the reliance on detailed protocols for observation and recording. As Buys Ballot was acutely aware, overly high demands in this regard might scare off possible participants, whereas low demands could result in worthless data.
Data in themselves mean little. A subsequent question, therefore, concerns the way these data were assembled and processed so as to result in diverse products such as books, articles, maps, tables, instruments and warning systems. Without a steady output of useful results the networks would probably be short-lived. This study will also look at the circulation of these products and the context of their use. Who were the intended consumers of the products and how were they approached? Where they given a say in the data collecting or in the making of the finished products? Did they provide any feedback?
3. International cooperation: the establishment of international Humboldtian networks
On a higher level this proposal aims to analyse the cooperation between scientists across the world. It will study the ways Dutch scientists came in contact with international colleagues and worked together in global Humboldtian projects. Starting in 1835, for instance, the Dutch astronomer Gerrit Moll participated in an international scientific project which involved the measurement of the water level at specific times in a large number of locations along the coast of Western Europe with the double purpose of developing both a mathematical theory of tidal movements and guidelines for the improvement of harbours. Analysis of Moll’s correspondence with his colleagues, William Whewell and David Brewster, as well as the ministries of Foreign Affairs and the Naval ministries, will provide answers as to how this European joint venture was established. In the same manner other Dutch contributions to international Humboldtian endeavours will be described. The motives of Dutch scientists to both initiate and join Humboldtian research projects and exchange scientific knowledge across the border will be analysed.
These international endeavours will be analysed in the light of broader contexts such as the politics of imperialism and the economics of worldwide trade. Moreover, the proposed project will address questions as to how the growth of international scientific cooperation related to the rise of nationalism in the new nation states. By exploring the Dutch involvement in Humboldtian projects this study will demonstrate the extent to which national interests and sentiments induced or impeded international cooperation.
International negotiations over common units, standards and protocols posed new and additional problems. One of the driving forces behind the 1875 Metric Convention was the need of the Europäische Gradmessung for common and accurate standards. Berlin was willing to accept the French meter as the basis for the new international standard, but insisted on supervision by an international bureau. One result was the withdrawal of Britain and The Netherlands from the international committee of weights and measures; another was the sabotage of the project by the offended French commissioners who were responsible for the construction of the new standards. Charting and understanding the growth of international standardisation is one of the tasks of this project. Here also, industrial and trade interests interacted with scientific interests.
This study will also explore the role of new communication and transport technologies such as the telegraph and the railways in the exchange of data and people. One of the reasons that Buys Ballot took up meteorology as a field of research was his conviction that new technologies, such as telegraphy, would boost the discipline and turn it into a mature science. Finally, this project will look at the factors that promoted the stability and endurance of the international networks. Some proved to be rather short-lived, whereas others evolved into still existing international unions, such as the International Union for Geodesy and Geophysics.
The proposed historical study of the international Humboldtian scientific networks in the nineteenth century will use recent insights into “the circulation of knowledge and practices”. The central issue is that locally produced knowledge and practices are not of themselves valid or applicable or even understandable outside the context of their production. Circulation is not a process of diffusion, but of translation: to become communicable and transferable, a continuous process of decontextualisation, recontextualisation and appropriation is required. Focussing on the dynamics of this process automatically draws attention to, for instance, means of representation (databases, tables, and graphs), processes of standardisation, of infrastructure (means of communication, locally and between locations), of participation (the different social groups involved and the nature of their relations, i.e. hierarchical, colonial etc.), and to obstacles and mediating factors.
The central question of this proposal directly addresses such issues that concern the circulation of knowledge and practices. The new insights that the growing interest in this theme has begun to generate can thus be fruitfully applied to this study.
Both archival sources and primary and secondary literature will be investigated. The open access to the archives housing valuable historical material from the period 1820-1880 makes this project highly feasible. The Dutch National Archive offers entry to the existing documents from the Department of the Arts and Sciences under the Ministry of the Interior. These documents are a lead in investigating the political and financial support that was asked and given to Humboldtian projects. Some of these sources provide information on the political negotiations with foreign countries such as Belgium and France on cooperation in meteorological, geodetic and other projects.
In ‘Het Noord-Hollands Archief’, which houses the archives of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, nineteenth-century minutes and reports of the physical sciences departments are available. The archive contains dossiers of scholarly correspondences ordered in the fields of meteorology, geodesy, earth magnetism, and other earth sciences. It also offers access to the reports of international earth sciences congresses of the period. Other material from the period such as publications, articles, treatises and lectures in these fields are available.
Foreign archives in London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Göttingen and Washington will be searched for sources on Dutch connections with Humboldtian networks. At Trinity College Library in Cambridge, for instance, which houses documents concerning the British Association for the Advancement of Science, archival material is available on scholarly correspondences between Dutch scientists with their British colleagues, such as Moll’s exchanges with Whewell. Publications and reports of other learned societies such as the American AAS and the German Gesellschaft Deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte will also be studied.
The Dutch contributions to Humboldtian science have remained largely unexplored until now, resulting in an under-appreciation of the significance of Dutch nineteenth-century science. The project will investigate this inattention that may have been caused by the historical impact of the Dutch Nobel laureates of the ‘Second Golden Age’, which possibly overshadowed and obscured the scientific ambitions and achievements of their predecessors. The Nobel laureates were famous individual men working mostly on their own (laboratory based) projects. The great deal of attention they have (rightly) been given may inadvertently contribute to an image of science as an individualistic enterprise of great men working in isolation. The study of Humboldtian networks will draw attention to an aspect of science that is at least as important, yet has received much less attention. Moreover, this study can contribute to the recent historical interest in the circulation of knowledge and practices which aims to analyse the dynamics of knowledge production within a long term perspective in order to discover patterns and structures in these processes.
e. Relevance for science, technology or society
The analysis of nineteenth-century global Humboldtian networks can bring to light the multifarious factors involved in bringing about enduring international scientific cooperation. Furthermore, this study will shed light on the relationships between scientific developments and processes of internationalisation and globalisation, each of them generating and transforming the other. Thus it investigates a phenomenon that can be said to have been at the roots of the development of a knowledge society in the twentieth century, which is predicated, not only on the production of knowledge and know-how as such, but also on its circulation, from the local to the global level. The study of Humboldtian networks can contribute to obtaining a long-term perspective on the role of science in society, which is indispensable for decisions concerning its present and future role.
f. Literature references
Aubin, David, ‘The Fading Star of the Paris Observatory in the Nineteenth Century: Astronomers' Urban Culture of Circulation and Observation’, Osiris 18 (2003) 79-100.
Cannon, Susan Faye, Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period (New York 1978).
Cawood, J., ‘Terrestrial Magnetism and the Development of International Collaboration in the Early Nineteenth Century’, Annals of Science 34 (1977) 551-587.
Cawood, J., ‘The Magnetic Crusade: Science and Politics in Early Victorian Britain’, Isis 70 (1979) 492-518.
Dettelbach, Michael, ‘The face of nature: precise measurement, mapping, and sensibility in the work of Alexander von Humboldt’, Studies in history and philosophy of biological and biomedical sciences 30C (1999) 473-504.
Everdingen, E. van, C.H.D. Buys Ballot, 1817-1890 (Den Haag 1953).
Haasbroek, N.D., Investigation of the accuracy of Stamkart's triangulation (1866-1881) in The Netherlands (Delft 1974).
Hearn, Chester G., Tracks in the Sea: Matthew Fontaine Maury and the Mapping of the Oceans (Camden 2002).
Home, R. W., ‘Humboldtian science revisited: An Australian case-study’, History of Science 33 (1995) 1-22.
Jardine, N., J.A. Secord and E.C. Spary, The cultures of natural history (Cambridge 1996).
Josefowicz, Diane Greco, ‘Experience, pedagogy, and the study of terrestrial magnetism’, Perspectives on science (2005) 452- 494.
Karvar, Anousheh and Brigitte Schroeder-Gudehus ‘Techniques, frontiers, mediation: transnational diffusion of models for the education of engineers’, History and technology 12 (1995) 79-204.
Kula, W., Measures and Men (Princeton 1986).
Landes, David S., The Unbound Prometheus: Technological Change and Industrial Development in Western Europe from 1750 to the Present (New York 20032).
Lintsen, H.W. ed., Geschiedenis van de techniek in Nederland: de wording van een moderne samenleving 1800-1890 (’s-Gravenhage 1992-1995).
Locher, F., ‘The observatory, the land-based ship and the crusades: Earth sciences in European context, 1830-1850’, British Society for the History of Science 40 (2007) 491-504.
Lunteren, F.H. van, 'De oprichting van het Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut: Humboldtiaanse wetenschap, internationale samenwerking en praktisch nut', Gewina 21 (1998) 216-243.
Lunteren, F.H. van, ‘Wetenschap voor het vaderland’ in K. van Berkel ed., De Akademie en de Tweede Gouden Eeuw (Amsterdam 2004) 43-106.
Lunteren, Frans van, Bert Theunissen and Rienk Vermij ed., De opmars van deskundigen: souffleurs van de samenleving (Amsterdam 2002).
MacConnell, Anita, No sea too deep: the history of oceanographic instruments (Bristol 1982).
MacLeod, Roy and Peter Collins ed., The Parliament of science: the British Association for the Advancement of Science, 1831-1981 (Northwood 1981).
Miller, David Philip, ‘The revival of the physical sciences in Britain, 1815-1840’, Osiris 2 (1986) 107-134.
Morrell, Jack and Arnold Thackray, Gentlemen of science: early years of the British Association for the Advancement of Science (Oxford 1981).
O'Connell, Joseph, ‘Metrology: The Creation of Universality by the Circulation of Particulars’, Social Studies of Science 23 (1993) 129-173.
Porter, Theodore M., Trust in Numbers: The Pursuit of Objectivity in Science and Public Life (Princeton 1995).
Pratt, Mary Louise, Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (London 1992).
Raj, Kapil, Relocating modern science: circulation and the construction of knowledge in South Asia and Europe, 1650-1900 (Basingstoke 2007).
Rupke, Nicolaas Adrianus, Alexander von Humboldt: a metabiography (Frankfurt am Main 2005).
Ruskin, Steven, John Herschel’s Cape voyage: private science, public imagination, and the ambitions of empire (Ashgate 2004).
Schaffer, Simon, ‘Metrology, Metrication, and Victorian Values’ in Bernard Lightman ed., Victorian Science in Context (Chicago, 1997) 438-74.
Theunissen, Bert, 'Nut en nog eens nut'. Wetenschapsbeelden van Nederlandse natuuronderzoekers 1800-1900 (Hilversum 2000).
Tucker, Jennifer, ‘Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air: Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of “Balloonacy”’, Osiris 11 (1996) 144-176.
Wise, M. Norton ed., The Values of Precision (Princeton 1995).
Woud, A. van der, Een nieuwe wereld: Het ontstaan van het moderne Nederland (Amsterdam 2006).
 H. Walbrink e.a., ‘Sea-level pressure observations from Dutch ships 1854-1938 incorporated in COADS release 1C climatology’, International Journal of Climatology 23 (2003) 471-475, p. 472.
 Jennifer Tucker, ‘Voyages of Discovery on Oceans of Air : Scientific Observation and the Image of Science in an Age of “Balloonacy”’, Osiris 11 (1996) 144-176, p. 156.
 F. van Lunteren, 'De oprichting van het Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut: Humboldtiaanse wetenschap, internationale samenwerking en praktisch nut', Gewina 21 (1998) 216-243, p. 219.
 For further information on this research programme: http://www.gewina.nl/werkgroep/
Last Monday I attended a workshop on "Local Encounters and the Global Circulation of Knowledge, 1750-1850" in Leiden. Central questions were, how are we to understand transitions of politics, science and economics, situated in diverse geographical and cultural locations? The papers presented during the day tried to connect the local and global, showing science as a dynamically co-evolutionary product of the encounters between representatives of various cultures. The two central concepts were the 'contact zone' and 'circulation of knowledge' as means for transformative production and transmission.
Lissa Roberts's "Introduction: Circulating Concepts as Inter-Disciplinary Contact Zones" presented a theoretical intro to local encounters and global circulation. Early encounters can be found in European discovery travels. Historical retrospection is to reveal that the expansion of England was also the transformation of England. In the 'circulation of knowledge,' there was a trend towards global homogenisation matched by local diversity (eg. Edgerton's "Shock of the Old"). The 'contact zone' was characterised by its temporal element, the involvement of multiple cultures, multiple contacts and exchange.
Kapil Raj presented a case study on "Calcutta: the Historical Geography of a Contact Zone." From its foundation onwards, Calcutta was a multi-coloured, multi-cultural city, quickly growing, and an example for a port of both trade as exchange of knowledge. W. Jones learned the Persian language and gave rise to the translation of many works into European languages. In Jones's work, we see the combination of language, ethnology, ethnicity, culture and religion. Jones developed a theory of a common origin of all men, and how they had spread over the globe. This common origin provided for a justification of British domination. Other topics discussed were the monetary worth of knowledge-exchange and the standardisation of measures, languages, and money. However, how does periodisation work in this story? Raj had chosen the 17th century as the starting point for Calcutta, the workshop looks that 18th century, and the development of the sciences into defined disciplines was only in the 19th century. An other questions concerns whether circulation was a product of centralised masterplan of trade and colonisation or rather a product of ad hoc events. The compromise consisted of the centrality of things within which a level of freedom exists.
Juan Pimentel presented "Stars and Stones. Astronomy and Archaeology in the works of the Mexican polymath Antonio León y Gama (1735-1802)," on the correspondence between Europe and Mexico on astronomical observations. Central themes were the relocation of Mexico in space and time, as maps needed to be connected to each other and as Mexico was relocated in a historiographical sense. Division of labour: European scientists used collected data at the peripheries (such as Mexico) for scientific practice in the centre. Problem of language barrier, the creation of new traditions (eg Mexican combination of local and newly introduced religious beliefs).
Andreas Weber: "A kingdom and its 'imagined' colony? - The Malay Archipelago in the eyes of the naturalist C.G.C. Reinwardt (1773-1854)." The Dutch in Indonesia commenced with the promotion of scientific research and therefore naturalist and Lineaus-admirer Reinwardt was sent. Hypothesised was the the connection with the scientific methodology of von Humboldt. Also central topic was the separation of Reinwardt's fieldwork and the de-contextualised character of the museum back in Holland. Futher questions were Reinwardt's relationship to locals and the infrastructure he was part of.
After the presentation of these papers (planned to be published early 2009) was followed by the fascinating commentaries by Leonard Blussé and Harm Beukers. Multiple points of critic were raised by Blussé, such as the problem of chronology, use of different perspectives, the role of language and systemisation, and the danger of anachronism. Interesting was the suggestion of the oldest form of history writing: the biography. The biography of a person or a city, it would provide the history of science with a new approach.
Beukers started with bringing into question the use of the strict model used at the workshop (contact zone, circulation). What exactly is circulating? In what context? What is the common ground between cultures? What exactly happens there? These questions had remained largely unanswered during the presentation of the papers. In for example medicine, Beukers pointed out, we can already identify various levels on which discussions take place, at the universal-local, traditional-modern, European-Asian, etc. Circulation implies inequality, thus essential differences. What exactly are these? Localisation, where are the connections then? Lastly, Beukers introduced the 'boundary objects'. Objects are the only things really of which we can recognise that they have 'circulated.' Questions we need to answer then are: how are these objects obtained? How are they transformed? How do collections change an object? What books are collected (and which one's not)? So, in the transmission of knowledge, the supposed 'knowledge claims' should be found behind the 'boundary objects.'
Further discussion went on about terminology. Why do we talk about 'circulation'? Why not, for example, diffusion, reception, appropriation, intercourse, cross-fertilisation, and in the case of translation, also transformation, configuration, communication and misunderstanding? Are we talking about knowledge or rather ideas, concepts, beliefs, facts, at contact zones, or trading zones, encounter or exchange or interchange of ideas or persons or objects or other embodiments..? The last issue concerned the question 'why' people engaged in 'circulation of knowledge.' What are people's motivations? Pimentel: it's necessary and it's forbidden!
Filed under: Circulation of Knowledge
This afternoon, Harold J. Cook gave a stimulating lecture to the members of the Descartes Centre and the Huygens Institute on the close relationship between science and commerce, specifically looking at the gathering of factual knowledge within a context of trade.
In the 17th century, Dutch physician Jacobus Bontius spent 4 years in Batavia (now Jakarta) during which he appropriated medical know-how from local practitioners, valuing "matters of fact" over belief systems. The extent to which this can be considered an exchange of knowledge remains unclear, however. No evidence has been found to proof that local healers adopted Western medicine in their practice. Only in the case of Willen ten Rhijne in Japan can we recognise an interchange of information, as Japanese scholars intentionally tried to learn elements from European science and medicine. Nevertheless, it seems that this exchange only applied to goods, materials, and elementary therapeutic practices. The philosophical theory or the fundamental scientific system within which these goods and practises of medicine operated appear to be completely disregarded.
Read Harold Cook's latest book: "Matters of Exchange: Commerce, Medicine, and Science in the Dutch Golden Age." Yale UP, 2007
Today, David Baneke had to defend his dissertation on Synthetic Thinking against a body of professors from various universities. After a series of critical questions and considerate responses, David was honoured with the Doctor of Philosophy degree. Congratulations!
Official title of dissertation:
"Synthetisch denken. Natuurwetenschappers over hun rol in een moderne maatschappij, 1900-1940."
Filed under: Science and Dilemma's of Modernity
Hayden White, Professor Emeritus at the University of California, has been described as "perhaps the premier academic essayist of our times." Compulsory reading for graduate students throughout the humanities, his essays on historical representation and narrative discourse have strongly contributed to a "narrative turn" in the study of historical thought. The author of Metahistory (1973), Tropics of Discourse (1978), The Content of the Form (1987), and Figural Realism (1999), Professor White has also published recent essays on historical fiction, witness literature, and Holocaust representation.
On thursday, May the 29th, White was interviewed in public by Herman Paul, Lecturer in Historical Theory, and Ernst van Alphen, Professor of Literary Studies. They addressed the desire for utopian alternatives, that runs as a leitmotiv through White’s work, and the discursive articulation of this desire in (post)modernist historical writing.Interesting to see was the contrast between White, an old charismatic erudite intellectual, and Paul, a young intelligent sharp scholar. It would not be an overstatement to say Paul was overshadowed by White, especially on a rhetorical level. Where Paul questioned while having critically read White's work, White answered evasively. Obviously Paul understood White's work better than White did himself according to White.
White's position on the historical discipline was an interesting one. He criticized historians for cutting the past off from the present and the future. A genealogy was a way of justifying the present. More poetically, you were born into a conversation and the conversation was not about you. The past was ever present. But this practical past was something different from the historical past [Oakeshott]. Historians had the authoritarian method of constructing a past which overpowered the practical past in what was to be remembered and what not. This Nietzschean-Foucauldian perspective on historical knowledge as power had its linguistic consequences.
White was asked why he did not write history as a poet or novellist. He answered he was brought up with the scientific method and was too old to change. Importantly, however, White stressed the literary character of the historical discipline. There was de facto not a great difference between an historical novel and a historical study, both were narrative expressions. White brought up the concept of the middle voice [verbum modi]. It was both active and passive. In the Greek world this voice still had a place in discourse, but it was lost to the scientific Western world. A verb like to promise myself was both active towards oneself and was passively endured. This dilemma of life was central to historical writing.
Filed under: History of the Humanities