The Limits of the ‘Autumn of Historiography’: on Frank Ankersmit’s Postmodernist Moment

In: Journal of the Philosophy of History
Jonathan Menezes South American Theological Faculty Londrina - Paraná Brazil

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For some contemporary historical theorists, the postmodernist movement in history and its nearly unilateral orientation towards language or discourse recently became subject to ‘the law of diminishing returns’ due to shifts in interests of philosophers and theorists of history at this time. Nevertheless, the contributions left by postmodernism in Western historical thought are too noticeable to be denied, even by those who have criticized it in the past. Frank Ankersmit is one of the few theorists that has been on both sides; firstly, he swiftly tied his case to postmodernism, and secondly, he joined those who, then and now, think that postmodernism was nothing more than an irresponsible and irretrievable trend. Hence, the aim of this paper is to explore some of the particularities of Ankersmit’s affair with postmodernism, taking his metaphor of ‘the autumn of historiography’ as an example of the limits of this relationship and its eventual end.


For some contemporary historical theorists, the postmodernist movement in history and its nearly unilateral orientation towards language or discourse recently became subject to ‘the law of diminishing returns’ due to shifts in interests of philosophers and theorists of history at this time. Nevertheless, the contributions left by postmodernism in Western historical thought are too noticeable to be denied, even by those who have criticized it in the past. Frank Ankersmit is one of the few theorists that has been on both sides; firstly, he swiftly tied his case to postmodernism, and secondly, he joined those who, then and now, think that postmodernism was nothing more than an irresponsible and irretrievable trend. Hence, the aim of this paper is to explore some of the particularities of Ankersmit’s affair with postmodernism, taking his metaphor of ‘the autumn of historiography’ as an example of the limits of this relationship and its eventual end.


There was a time, approximately between the mid-1970s and the late 1990s, when postmodernism – and the related movements of poststructuralism, deconstructivism, the linguistic turn, narrativism, and so on – became (almost) the only game in town in the theory of history, seriously challenging the historian’s traditional ways of relating with the past, as well as thinking about and writing history. This ‘new’ condition became strong in the 1980s, not only in philosophy and literary theory (think, e.g., of Barthes, Derrida, Rorty or White) but also in historiography, so much so that, in a paper presented in Utrecht in 1986 (and later published in History and Theory, in 1989), Frank Ankersmit announced that ‘autumn has come to Western historiography’, and what remained then for historians was the task of collecting ‘the leaves that have been blown away and to study them independently of their origins’.1 But what does that mean exactly? I shall deal with this question in due course.

The important matter here is that the claims of Ankersmit’s article, along with the resulting debate between Ankersmit and Perez Zagorin in History and Theory, constituted, according to Keith Jenkins,2 a ‘seminal moment’ for the future of the mainly theoretical relation between postmodernism and historiography. But, for Ankersmit, as I wish to argue in this paper, it was no more than a moment. In other words, the main point here is that Ankersmit’s association with postmodernism was not a full-blooded one, that is, not meant to be an ‘irretrievable breakdown’ or divorce with history ‘as we know it’, which happens to be Jenkins’s case.3 It was more a result of his short-lived identification with intellectual trends of the 1980s, like Rorty’s linguistic philosophy and the so-called history of mentalities, which were both connected with postmodernism in his view. But if we read his ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’ more carefully, it is possible to see that he really was not talking about radical breaks, and if we look at what he has written since the mid-1990s,4 it is not difficult to conclude that he did not take many steps up the postmodernist staircase. Even though he is still sometimes seen as a postmodernist,5 this work shows that his affair with postmodernism, on the one hand, might have left significant traces in the path of theorists (like Keith Jenkins) who took this cause forward (some would say too far), but for Ankersmit himself, on the other hand, it was not a cause at all and did not exceed the limits of a temporary ‘play in the fields of postmodernism’ (to paraphrase Peter Matthiessen).

1 Changing the Tone

Ankersmit’s story with postmodernism began, it seems, in the aftermath of the hostile reception of his book Narrative Logic (1983). The remarkable example of this is clearly Behan McCullagh’s review6 published in History and Theory one year later, ironically with Ankersmit’s blessing. He was the one that suggested that McCullagh should do the review of his book, and the result was no less disastrous because he criticized and dismissed almost everything in the book. Ten years later, in an interview with Ewa Domanska, Ankersmit lamented that Narrative Logic never had the slightest impact even in the ‘small world of historical theorists’. He understood then that he had gone to the wrong publisher; that the book had been ‘poorly edited’; that it had received a declassifying review (as previously mentioned); and that he had used an Anglo-Saxon form of argumentation to reach ‘Continental conclusions’. The consequence was, in Ankersmit’s evaluation, that the book fell ‘between two stools’, which means that, insofar as the book was noted, the Anglo-Saxon philosophers of language disliked his conclusions and the Continental post-structuralists did not appreciate his way of arguing. In the same interview, Ankersmit admitted that he intentionally changed his argumentative style and adopted the rhetoric and vocabulary of American philosophy of language (mostly Richard Rorty’s) and of French post-structuralism so the tone of his writings would become more ‘radical’ (as he himself labeled it).7

It is not difficult to recognize this change of tone (although not of theory) when one reads essays like ‘The Dilemma of Contemporary Anglo-Saxon Philosophy of History’,8 ‘Historical Representation’,9 ‘The Reality-Effect in the Writing of History’,10 and his dive into the postmodernist’s agenda in ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’,11 and in his ‘Reply to professor Zagorin’.12 One of the things that Ankersmit certainly did in those articles was to reaffirm – sometimes literally, sometimes in a different fashion – the main theses of Narrative Logic.13 He did this in part because the book did not receive the attention it deserved, but mostly due to the author’s conviction about the consistency and importance of those theses for the future of the philosophy of history. Ankersmit started Narrative Logic with the assumption that the traditional or epistemological philosophy of history, represented by the Covering-Law Model and analytical hermeneutics, somehow missed or neglected ‘the problem of how the historian narratively interprets the results of historical research’ and that his study was mainly ‘an attempt to remedy this state of affairs’.14 Therefore, in the article of 1986 (The Dilemma of Contemporary Anglo-Saxon Philosophy of History’), he came to the same conclusion that ‘a linguistic philosophy of history is then badly needed’.15 The apparent solution to the ‘dilemma’ presented in that article was also hinted at in his Narrative Logic: that philosophy of history should become narrativist if the decision is to move forward and not backward.16

The new thing was the interaction between Ankersmit’s positions and those of Richard Rorty presented in Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature,17 which Ankersmit claimed to have read only after the completion of Narrative Logic (originally in 1981). By mixing Rorty’s postmodernism with his version of narrativism, he came to the following conclusion: ‘If we take seriously the text and its narrative substances we will become postmodernists; if we see only the statement we will remain modernist. Or, to put it in a slogan, the statement is modernist and the (historical) text is postmodernist’.18 In this sense, one could say that Narrative Logic might be simultaneously modernist (or realist) and postmodernist (or textualist), for the ‘narratio’, as he understood it, is constituted by two levels: (a) the level of the statement (which refers to an ‘outside’) and (b) the level of the narrative substance (which refers only to itself).19 Nevertheless, it seems to me that the attempt to fit Ankersmit’s work within one of these theoretical boxes – modernist or postmodernist? Realist or textualist? – is rather artificial and unproductive. My intuition is that he never felt completely at home within either of these labels, even when he was the main responsible party to occasionally put himself in those boxes, but most of the time he could well be placed in both or neither of them.20 I hasten to add, though, that it is not my purpose here to imply that Ankersmit never was a postmodernist in any plausible sense, but to show that there is a simultaneity of possible theoretical identities and commitments surrounding him as a philosopher of history which prevented him from fully embracing postmodernism.

2 An Affair with Postmodernism

How far has Ankersmit’s dance with postmodernism gone? Not too far, I would say. When Ankersmit wrote ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’ (in 1986) there was no theoretical ‘manual’ defining ‘what it is like to be a postmodern historian/historical theorist’, or what a postmodernist historiography should look like. Relating history and postmodernism was a rather new thing. So even though Ankersmit took that piece as an example of theoretical ‘radicalization’, arguably it was not radical enough considering what postmodernist theory of history became right after, that is, an intellectual movement whose purpose sometimes coincided with extremist positions, since it tried to direct us towards the ‘end of history’ as historians and/or theoreticians knew it traditionally.

Keith Jenkins is/was the main proponent of this vision. His book Rethinking History certainly was one of ‘the key precipitants of the 1990s debates about historical theory and the claims of postmodernism that reshaped the intellectual agenda of the discipline in Britain (and beyond).’21 The idea of the end of history in Jenkins’s work roughly had to do with the abandonment of what he called ‘the strange ways found by modernity to historicize the past’, or the end of history of ‘a certain kind’. For him, if historiography shaped by modernist thought (in which the grand history prevails) has been duly dismissed by postmodernist critiques – such as that the past is promiscuous, for it ‘goes with anyone’ and it will obey any reading, supporting everyone in general but no one in particular, thus becoming ‘opened up to interminable readings and rereadings and so to an inexpungable relativism of accounts’ – then his proposal is that we should ‘forget about history’, and thus declare its death without looking back.22

Hence, the overall postmodernist argumentation à la Jenkins can then be formulated as follows:

  • if the current answer to the question ‘what is the historian’s task?’ is no longer ‘to know the past’ or ‘to represent it accurately according to the evidence’ (or sources);

  • and if the access to this past is not an access at all, but a construction of a past delimited and determined by language;

  • or if the so-called evidence is not an evidence of (a past found in the sources) but rather an evidence for (an imagined or reinvented past);

  • in a nutshell, if history does not exist ‘out there’, in objective form, but only in the narrative form proposed by the historian, furnished by his arguments; and if these arguments ‘can never be true or false but only valid or invalid’, with the result that ‘no history, based as it is on such argumentation, can ever be, as a historical account, of a truthful kind’,23 then we can bid farewell to history as we know it.

Is that what Ankersmit envisioned when he declared himself a postmodernist? Not exactly. That is partly because the ‘out there’ (which he later dubbed the ‘representeds’ or ‘aspects’ of reality)24 is somehow still important for Ankersmit, and obviously because he never waved goodbye to history at all. Neither did Jenkins’s fellow postmodernists, who seem to uphold more moderate visions regarding the ruptures with traditional ways of doing history incited by postmodernist theories.

I am here thinking of Alun Munslow, Robert Rosenstone and Beverley Southgate, some of the chief British promoters (along with Jenkins, in the 1990s and 2000s) of the audacious project of rethinking history25 via postmodernist (innovative and experimental) perspective(s). Munslow, for instance, used the rhetoric of deconstruction in his book of 1997, arguing that in the heart of the deconstructive approach lies ‘the recognition that narrative upsets the assumed balance between language and reality. Historical language (Ankersmit’s narrative proposal) becomes the primary vehicle for understanding’. The result is that we should leave the traditional empiricist epistemology behind in favor of a radically new representational approach to the construction of knowledge about the past.26 It does not mean, however, that deconstructive awareness rejects rationality, neither does it deny historical reality or even neglect the ethical or moral consequences of the arbitrary process between ‘signified and signifier’ (we are confined to the present when writing about the past). What it does mean is that ‘when historians say that they are confronting the past, they are actually confronting language’, which points to the fundamental issue of the ‘mismatch between words and things’.27

In the conclusion of his book, Munslow uses the Whitean tension between made and found to say that historical understanding is no less a product of the literary artifact than it is a knowable historical reality. In sum, as he goes on:

The rejection of the correspondence theory does not mean that we are completely free to select any tropic – emplotment – argument – ideological configuration for the evidence, and then proceed to some ultimate historical version of literary deconstruction that allows any meaning to be imposed on the past while declaiming any responsibility for it. (…) No historian can work in ignorance of previous interpretations or emplotments of the archive.28

The same refusal of identification with a postmodernist ‘anything goes’ can be seen in Rosenstone’s autobiographical essay ‘Confessions of a Postmodern (?) Historian’, in which the author confesses being fond of novels and stories (the basic task of the historian being, according to him, to tell people stories about the past), which made him open to the deconstructive-postmodernist approach to history as a fictive activity (in the sense of made). ‘Metaphors’, he says, ‘are as important as the stuff we call data’,29 so the story begins with a metaphor and not with data. But data is still important. Thus, Rosenstone does not want to deny the importance to historical work of those empirical traces left by the past, but to emphasize ‘that important aspects of the past lie outside the empirical circle. The past is vast and multifaceted. Our writing about it should be the same.’ Then, there must be room for traditional work, but also (and more so) for experimental, creative and innovative ways of writing these stories.30

Southgate also identified himself with postmodernist theories of history throughout his work, and with the common belief that there is no possibility of a direct access to a past that is ‘forever gone’, and that all histories are fictive in the sense of being imaginatively constructed. On the other hand, in a recent essay he endorsed Peter Charles Hoffer’s view that ‘history is impossible, but necessary’, and that ‘while it is easy to demolish the very idea of historical knowing’ (as Jenkins did), it is ‘impossible to demolish the importance of historical knowing’.31 In other words, we cannot just forget about or ignore a past that is ‘always with us’ in one way or another. Southgate’s proposal is that not-ignoring the past is not only ‘an emotional inability’ but also ‘an ethical imperative’; that is: ‘we ought not to forget, or even try to forget, aspects of our pasts which (however ‘gone’) inevitably continue to constitute a part of our present. To put that another way, I am proposing that we still need history as an ethical practice.’32

Fifteen years ago, Ankersmit showed some sympathy towards Southgate’s earlier enterprise in his review of the latter’s book Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom,33 which he (Ankersmit) described as an attempt at reconciliation between modernist and postmodernist theoretical perspectives about history. His (very particular) reason for praising Southgate’s efforts has to do with the latter’s awareness of ‘the very nature of historical writing’, which contains in itself ‘both a modernist and a postmodernist dimension’, formulated in the review as the following: ‘the historian has to satisfy, at the elementary level of the individual statements of a historical narrative, the modernist’s requirement to tell about the past “the truth and nothing but the truth”’; and, at the same time, ‘he or she has to integrate these individual truths into an acceptable representation of the past. And really, only postmodernists have been fully aware of this and of the hitherto unnoticed and unanalyzed intellectual faculties enabling the historian to do it’.34 Is this not a paraphrase of the theorem that he has defended since Narrative Logic? Hence, according to this review piece, historical representation seems to be the common ground between Southgate’s kind of soft postmodernism and Ankersmit’s own theoretical aiming and predilection for moderation.

Let us now have a look at Ankersmit’s metaphor of the autumn of historiography. In ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’ – a text that was a result of the lectures he originally presented in Utrecht, 1986 May 22–24 – he compared History (with a capital H) to a tree. Then, he sought to associate parts of this tree with different traditions of Western historical thought. First, the ‘essentialist tradition’, which is represented by the speculative systems or speculative philosophies of history, has focused on the trunk of the tree, since it claimed to determine its ‘nature or essence’. Second, historicism and the scientific historiography tradition have concentrated on the branches. Although they criticized their speculative predecessors, they remained in the essentialist tradition because of their ‘pretension of ultimately being able to say something about that trunk after all’.35 Third, on the opposite side came the postmodernist historiography focusing on the leaves of the tree. It no longer aims for integration, synthesis, and totality, because the focus of its attention is now on ‘the historical scraps’ (or l’histoire en miettes). For the first time, in Ankersmit’s view, a rupture was made with the ‘essentialist tradition’ (the trunk and branches of the tree); not a ‘radical break’, as he hastened to add ‘to avoid any pathos or exaggeration’, but he was talking about trends. And the trend he had in mind was the history of mentalities (through the works of Le Roy Ladurie, Zemon Davis, and Ginzburg), which was, at that time, Ankersmit’s freshest example of postmodernist historiography.

In ‘Historical Representation’ Ankersmit also called the type of history produced by these authors postmodernist, since they prioritized marginal examples of history – such as Ginzburg’s Menocchio – focusing on small pieces of the past (or ‘microhistories’) rather than appealing to the grand schemes and metanarratives of modern and scientific historiography.36

However, Ankersmit seems to have overestimated (or underestimated, it depends on one’s perspective) these historians by calling them ‘postmodernists’, even if only for the reasons mentioned above, since authors such as Ginzburg (taking him as one example) did not see themselves that way (neither do I). This means that, although resisting the positivist’s belief that the text should mirror reality, and even considering the adoption of a viewpoint on the sources or evidence as already a construction, Ginzburg also rejected the overthrow of reality by the historian’s imposition of his/her own point of view. According to him, ‘the projection of desire without which there is no historical inquiry is not incompatible with the refutations inflicted by the principle of reality. Knowledge (even historical knowledge) is possible’.37 Ginzburg himself commented on Ankersmit’s association of his microhistory with postmodernism, readily rejecting it by the fact that he sees himself as a critic of ‘relativistic positions’ (according to him) represented by Ankersmit, White, and other postmodernists, who reduced historiography to its textual dimension, taking its cognitive value for granted. Moreover, in Ginzburg’s opinion, ‘the distinctive quality of Italian microhistory must be looked for in this cognitive wager’.38 Indeed, while the historiographical work of Ginzburg and other microhistorians may be somehow taken as examples of the fragmentation that Ankersmit praised as the postmodernist zeitgeist in Western historiography at that time, Ginzburg could not be a postmodernist historian,39 not only because he criticized this current, but especially because it seems that he never intended to separate himself from the trunk (or ‘the origins’) while collecting the leaves every now and then.

According to Ankersmit, what this postmodernist historiography was supposed to do is to collect the leaves that fell on the ground and study them separately from its origins. By doing this, his conclusion was that ‘what we are witnessing could perhaps be nothing less than the definitive farewell, for the time being, to all the essentialist aspirations which have actually dominated historiography as long as it has existed’.40 But – and this is a very important ‘but’ here – there is a no less significant concession in Ankersmit’s line of argument: when he says that if we still desire to ‘adhere to essentialism’ anyway – in spite of his anti-essentialist inclination in that article – perhaps we should understand that ‘the essence of the past is not, or does not lie in the essence of the past’, that is, not in the trunk, but in the leaves, the short pieces, ‘the slips of the tongue’, and there we would most probably find ‘what is really of importance to us’.41 Nonetheless, if the anti-essentialist turn announced by Ankersmit was so convincing and definitive as he believed, why would one still desire to adhere to essentialism? To illustrate the reasons for this (apparent) departure from essentialism by concentrating on the leaves, in an article published in a Dutch newspaper – which was another part of his presentation in Utrecht – Ankersmit used Rorty and Freud:

American Philosopher Richard Rorty, whose oeuvre forms the intellectual background for the above-mentioned development, once wrote about Freud: ‘Freud made the paradigm of self-knowledge the discovery of little idiosyncratic accidents rather than of an essence’.42 Freud’s psychoanalysis has taught us that our “self” is not located in any core from which all what we think or do comes from, but in an endless series of small and seemingly irrelevant details. Our self does not manifest itself throughout the day in a clearly recognizable essence, but on the contrary, in the narrowest sense, in the forbidden, in what becomes visible in a flash and then disappears as suddenly as it came. The parallel to the approach of Le Roy Ladurie et al. is evident. One can, therefore, assume that the ‘microhistory’ in the same way deals with our past as psychoanalysis deals with the past of the individual. The French historian G. Duby acknowledges that too. Nobody can deny that the connection between the present and the past of the individual is nowhere more intimate, and that the past is nowhere used in a more fruitful way than in psychoanalysis. From that point of view, anti-essentialist microhistory is the crown of old-centuries historiographic development, rather than it is its destruction.43

As a reminder, Ankersmit has said before that historians, following the lead of the history of mentalities, would probably find more richness if they drew their attention to those seemingly unimportant parts or chunks of the past. Similarly, he is now saying that our (should I say ‘true’?) self does not manifest itself in some metaphysical core, but in the irrelevant details. Furthermore: that this microhistoric approach to the past should be taken as the summit of traditional historical writing rather than its annihilation – and, for my own reasons, I totally agree with him. The most important thing here for me is that he believes that, even if only in a fraction of time or of light, there is still a connection or a (somewhat accessible) form of manifestation of the self/past. So, again, why do we have to keep speaking about essentialism? Because, in the famous dictum attributed to Aby Warburg (among others), God is in the details. Or, strictly speaking, one may still find some ‘aspects’ of the trunk in the leaves, regardless of their autumnal detachedness. Furthermore, as many of Ankersmit’s readers probably know, he has always considered himself an adherent of the German historicist tradition founded by Ranke.44 Ranke believed that ‘in all things, at all times, it is the origin that is decisive’, or in Ankersmit’s later words, ‘the objects investigated by the historian cannot be defined apart from their history’.45 In the end, it seems that it may not be possible for both (old historicists and Ankersmit) to study the leaves of the past ‘independently of their origins’, as he claimed before. In this sense, as Ankersmit recognized in Narrative Logic, historicism ‘remained quite close to essentialism’, for historicists ‘had historicized essentialism but not rejected it conclusively’.46 That is why historicism is still connected to the trunk, and it is why Ankersmit himself did not completely leave the essentialist tradition behind even in his ‘postmodernist moment’, which shows the limits of what one could do with or conclude from his metaphor of the autumn of historiography. Is that really a metaphor for a postmodernist historiography in its more radical sense?

Curiously enough, Jenkins took Ankersmit’s ‘definitive farewell’ (but as he said, ‘for the time being’) to essentialist aspirations as an inspiration for what he denominated ‘the end of history as we know’, that is, the end of the kind of historical writing which, fighting against its unredeemable fictional nature, still wants to talk about the trunk, albeit through its leaves. Precisely due to this radicalism, Jenkins impatiently asked Ankersmit: ‘Why do we still have to bother with a dead past?’ ‘Why this nostalgia?’ ‘Why should we collect the leaves from the ground?’47 Later, Ankersmit indirectly gave him an answer, which can be a proper sum to my overall argument hitherto:

No society can function without an awareness of the past; and as I’d like to add here without an awareness of this awareness of the past. So let’s go on gathering the leaves from the ground since this is what historical awareness48 requires us to do. But we shall also need the awareness of our awareness of the past so that we know what exactly we are doing when gathering these leaves of the past from the ground.49

3 Farewell to Postmodernism

Self-evidently, the limits of the ‘autumn of historiography’ are not meant to be found only in the metaphor itself, but also in later stages of his oeuvre. As we saw moments ago, in the article from 1989 Ankersmit already established the boundaries of his postmodernism, when clarified – ‘to avoid any pathos or exaggeration’ – that the rupture proposed by postmodernism with centuries-old ‘essentialist traditions’ was not meant to be an abrupt breakup.50 But for hyperbolic theorists like Jenkins, postmodernism is precisely ‘the getting of an attitude, a militant, radical disposition, that undercuts not only the content but also the grammatical, fictional forms of modernist histories without a hint of apology or nostalgia …’.51

However, even on the edge of his postmodernist moment Ankersmit could not accept Jenkins’s radical postmodernism; for whereas the latter’s postmodernism is all about the excesses, the extremes, and ‘is everything that modernity cannot ever be’,52 Ankersmit seems to have always nurtured the longing for a happy medium or ‘an affinity for moderation’53 in his philosophy of history and politics. This desire is perceptible in some aspects of my previous analysis, but especially in the introduction to his the book Historical Representation, in which Ankersmit states that ‘the time has come to find the juste milieu between the linguistic innocence of historical traditional theory and the hyperbole of some postmodernist theorists’.54 The ‘hyperbole’ here is associated with their apparent ‘rejection of the rationality of [traditional, historicist] historical writing’.55

It is true that, in the last chapter of History and Tropology (1994), Ankersmit tried to make postmodernism look better for professional historians by associating it with historicism – and perhaps also the other way around: to make historicism look better for the postmodernists. He attempted to convince himself and his readers that historicism and postmodernism were connected by their similar interests in the concept of difference.56 Nevertheless, he later confessed that those similarities were arguments used more ‘in favor of historicism rather than postmodernism’. According to Ankersmit:

The explanation is that, for me, historicism as it developed in the 19th and early 20th centuries was a far more profound theory than postmodernism. Not in the last place because postmodernism invited a lot of sloppy and irresponsible thinking and which is why I would not characterize myself as a postmodernist anymore.57

As far as I know, that was the first time he explicitly stated (in a book or article) that he was no longer a postmodernist, and not coincidentally, in response to Brazilian scholars who were insistently posing questions about his previous postmodernist positions. It must have been harder than he had thought to expunge his image as a postmodernist, which brought him some distinction but also a bad name.

In this sense, Ankersmit’s problem with postmodernism may also come from the negative association of himself with the ‘sloppy and irresponsible thinking’ (according to many historians) of postmodernism. Perez Zagorin’s considerations of Ankersmit’s 1989 paper are an example. According to Zagorin: ‘What stands out in Ankersmit’s postmodernist concept of historiography is its superficiality and remoteness from historical practice and the way historians usually think about their work. It trivializes history and renders it void of any intellectual responsibility’.58 Superficiality? Irrelevance to historical practice? Trivialization of history? Lack of intellectual responsibility? How must these accusations have sounded to a historicist philosopher of history so fond of ‘clear, precise and logical argument’ like Ankersmit?59 Thus, in the end of his ‘Reply to professor Zagorin’, he made a revealing concession to his opponent: ‘If however, the modernist and Zagorin object to the argumentative style of many postmodernists, I shall not disagree with them. It is true that one often finds in postmodernist writings poor and unconvincing argument, superfluous technicalities, and obscure jargon’.60

In like manner, Ankersmit started to raise some doubts about narrativism. It is important to remind that since Narrative Logic he had sought to let very clear what kind of narratives he had in mind, declaring that ‘whenever in this book the terms “narratio” and “narrative substance” are to be used, all associations with the belles-lettres and with a story-telling kind of historiography should be avoided’. The ‘narratio’ for Ankersmit is the historical narrative, while the storytelling is ‘the kind of writing produced in literary fiction’.61 Although admitting that ‘in individual books the two genres may be mixed up’, Ankersmit also aimed to give a ‘successful definition of the differences between the two genres’, by means of an identification of ‘alien elements’ in either historical novel and the narratio, mostly in favor of the second.62 On the other hand, Hayden White blurred the lines between the ‘realistic’ and the ‘fictional’, defending that, since ‘facts have no reality outside language’, for they are ‘events under description’, the representation of these facts might be endowed with all the attributes (imagination, invention, creativity, etc.) that one may find in literary fiction. The conclusion was that ‘there is no substantial difference between representations of historical reality and representations of imagined events and processes’.63 Ankersmit would concede that (past) events have no meaning, except those that are given by the historian. At the same time, he declared that the vocabulary of meaning and interpretation ‘cannot explain why we are not empty-handed in such [historical] discussions’. To be meaningful, historical texts should always be ‘about something outside the text itself’; or, in other words, ‘in history there is often, though not always, a “dehors texte”’ – a clear allusion to Derrida’s famous dictum.64 That is why, in the same article, he came up with a new vocabulary to supplement the vocabulary of interpretation: historical representation. His explanation, roughly, is that if we only stay on the level of interpretation, texts are all we can talk about, the result being that we will never have meaningful historical writing in the sense that he presented above. In contrast, representation is about (though it cannot refer directly to) something outside the text itself. In terms he used in a later book, ‘language, either spoken or written, is the prototypical object of interpretation, whereas the object of representation is reality’.65

It is not my intention here to give an extensive account of Ankersmit’s well-known concept of historical representation. My point here is: Ankersmit’s decision to say that the vocabulary of representation is even more important for historical writing than the one of interpretation, primarily, had to do with fact that he saw in it a more profound way of doing justice to what the discipline, in fact, is for him (more aesthetical than epistemological, although it cannot avoid epistemology in toto). But a secondary, though no less important, reason for this change, I suppose, was that he desired to release his work from the bad reputation spinning around the work of those narrativists/postmodernist theoreticians like White or Jenkins, who obviously had no problem with staying only at the level of the text itself. So much that in the preface of Sublime Historical Experience he gave the following explanation:

The term narrativism suggested that the historical text is, essentially, a narrative, or a story as we may find it in novels, legends, or fairy tales. Many historians therefore distrusted narrativism from the start: They rightly pointed out that one cannot reduce the writing of history to mere storytelling. Moreover, they insisted that the historian’s text is required to do justice to what the text is about and that this has no exact equivalent in novels, fiction and so on. And their worries were all the more justified since several historical theorists allowed themselves as well to be misled by the term narrativism and to see historical writing as being merely a variant of the novel […]. This, then, is why we had better speak of “(historical) representation” than of “narrative”. Whereas we can tell narratives about what never actually took place, there is no representation without a represented. That is simply part of the etymological meaning of the word: you can only make something present again which is not present now (for whatever reason). So the term historical representation will never invite us to forget that the historian’s text is about a past and that it should do justice to this past as well as it can.66

Moreover, it is possible to say that the epistemological question of ‘how a complex text as typically written by historians may, or fail to account for a complex historical reality’67 has always been on Ankersmit’s radar since (or even before) the days of Narrative Logic. This might be one of the most evident differences between him and White, because for Ankersmit, neither White nor the postmodernists that took inspiration from his work went through the trouble of answering this question properly. Notwithstanding all the gains that the narrativist paradigm certainly brought to the contemporary theory and philosophy of history, Ankersmit was willing then (and even more strongly now) to contemplate ‘what narrativism may somehow have missed’ and what its main mistakes were.68 That is why he recently took Jenkins as one example to blame for the ‘bad’ appropriation of the narrativist paradigm:

Keith Jenkins’s theoretical writings owe their wholly unique place in contemporary historical thought to the fact that they offer an uncompromising radicalization of all the anti-epistemological tendencies inherent in narrativism I mentioned just now – even when resulting in the reductio ad absurdum of an ‘anything goes’ in historical writing. All cognitive restraints on historical and all belief in the possibility of any kind of historical truth are rejected by Jenkins with an indeed remarkable and ruthless consistency. His historical theory thus ended up in the self-defeating theory that no theory of history is possible, and in the alleged corollary that the demise of theory must imply the demise of historical writing itself as well. If philosophy cannot justify historical knowledge on a priori grounds, it follows that history is written in a cognitive vacuum in which neither truth nor falsity can breathe. So, the sad message is that historical writing itself and philosophy of history have to be interred in a common grave.69

Ankersmit makes several claims in the passage above which can be, in fact, applied to Jenkins, with some exceptions. That Jenkins’ place in historical thought in the last decades is mainly due to his radicalization of postmodernism, there seems to be no doubt. That he defended the relativity of historical interpretations or points of view is too obvious to deny. But, for me it seems unlikely that this has led all the way down to ‘anything goes’. A history of a modernist kind, for example, does not go (did Jenkins’ readers realize that?). And one may correctly observe that this is the price usually paid for radicalization, that is, the price of contradicting one’s own postmodernist defense of relativity or pluralism of thought. Therefore, from this perspective, his postmodernism may not be as ‘uncompromised’ as Ankersmit (and most of his critics) might think.70 It is committed ‘to the death’, for instance, to the Whitean ‘conditions of possibility’ for historical thought. Lastly, I do not think that Jenkins’s historical theory is defeatist; ‘tragic’ seems to be a better adjective, since he announced what for him (and almost no one else)71 was the ‘good news’ of postmodernism: ‘the end of history of a certain kind’. Which, by the way, happens to be, to the surprise of Zagorin, Zammito, and Ginzburg among others, Ankersmit’s kind of history – not, of course, without some oppositions and amendments of his own, as we have seen. In addition, several years ago Jenkins decided to stop writing about the theory of history. The ‘end of history’ might have been fulfilled, at least for him.

Closing Remarks

I can sum up my main thesis in this paper with two basic assumptions: first, Ankersmit’s postmodern moment came about via his defense of a particular kind of postmodernist theory of history and historiography through those articles that appeared in History and Theory (in 1989 and 1990); second, this by no means can be seen as an unconditional defense of postmodernism, but a circumstantial one and, for that matter, limited observation of the autumnal tendencies in historiography at that time. I shall also add a third assumption: Ankersmit’s eventual return to the topic was not a relapse into the postmodernism he had sometimes defended before, but a functional connection to it in support of something more important for him then – e.g., the support of historicism by relating it with the postmodernist’s notion of difference, in the last chapter of History and Tropology; or the support of an aesthetic political philosophy, and its ‘antimetaphysical’ nature, its resistance to systems and ‘their pretensions to universal validity in the understanding of foundations, metaphysics and unity’.72 Nevertheless, the more robust partner supporting his understanding of the intersection between history and politics was (and still is), again, historicism and not postmodernism.73

Ankersmit seems to have always maintained a tense relationship with the text-oriented new philosophy of history which, by the way, he helped to formulate. On the one hand, he praised its efforts for having been able to take away our innocence regarding the historian’s language, as he pointed out in a critique of the old historiography and its conception of ‘double transparency’, where the historical text is considered to be transparent firstly in relation to historical reality that gravitates to its surroundings, and secondly, in relation to the judgment provided by the historian about a relevant part of this past reality. On the other hand, he criticized it for its silence towards the problem of ‘how historians may succeed in telling a truthful story about the past’.74 That might be because of his endless affair with the historicist kind of history, whose aim has always been to answer this question.

Besides, following his Dutch roots, he admitted without embarrassment to joining Huizinga in his longing for ‘the authentic past’, which resulted in Ankersmit’s own account of the historical experience, which was half responsible for distancing his work from postmodernism. In this sense, it is no surprise that in the end of the second chapter of his Sublime Historical Experience, Ankersmit admitted that, in order to get rid of linguistic transcendentalism – a conditio sine qua non for the rise of historical experience – one should also ‘ruthlessly do away with all these useless and cumbersome products of transcendentalist bureaucracy’, including in the milieu: ‘semiotics, hermeneutics, structuralism and post-structuralism, tropology, deconstructivism, textualism, contextualism, and so on’.75 That is, one should do away with all of the postmodernist’s partners in crime, so to speak.

And, finally, in a recent conversation Ankersmit declared that with the advent of historicity, historical writing was possible, and it ‘would remain a most important and even indispensable concern in human society ever since. History undoubtedly is the queen of the human sciences. Let’s be proud of our discipline!’.76 Accordingly, there must be a deep irony in Ankersmit presenting quite critical views of the kind of postmodernism with which he aligned himself in the mid-1980s. He now tells his colleagues that the Utrecht lecture might be the worst thing he ever wrote, while his international reputation as a historical theorist largely rests on these postmodernist interventions, as I highlighted in the introduction. In other words, had Ankersmit not written these postmodernist articles, he probably would not have become as famous as he is now as a historical theorist. C’est la vie!


This paper benefited from helpful comments and suggestions received from Adriaan van Veldhuizen, Eugen Zelenak, and the two anonymous reviewers. This does not mean, however, that they agree with the views expressed here. Some small pieces of this paper were previously published in Slovak in the book: Paulína Šedíková Čuhová (ed.), Podoby faktualneho narativu, (Bratislava: Chronos, 2017), 71–83. Funding was provided by CAPES-PDSE, Brazil, grant no. 88881.134902/2016-01.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, History and Theory 28 (1989), 150.


Keith Jenkins (ed.), The Postmodern History Reader, (London and New York: Routledge, 1997), 276.


See: Keith Jenkins, ‘The End of the Affair: On the Irretrievable Breakdown of History and Ethics’, Rethinking History 11 (2007), 275–285.


One could say, apart from History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor, a collection of essays he wrote in the 1980s. But, the introduction and the last chapter of the book were new. So, the striking thing is that both the introduction and the last chapter addressed ‘the fall of metaphor’, whilst the other six chapters were about ‘the rise of metaphor’. This is the ambivalence of the book: the ‘current’ and the ‘early’ Ankersmit, so to speak, were debating and, to a certain extent, disagreeing with each other. The former was trying to overcome or at least improve the latter, and to move beyond the school of thought (narrativism) which took over the philosophy of history since the 1970s, focusing especially on the linguistic dimension of the historical writing, and baring the assumption that the historian cannot establish a direct or immediate contact with the past, only with the past encapsulated in a narrative (substance). Unfortunately for Ankersmit, this ‘requires the radical elimination of the dimension of the historian’s own experience of the past’ – an issue that he timidly started to address in the last chapter. So, the aim of the Ankersmit that rose in the 1990s’ was ‘to [also] explore the possibilities of such a non-Kantian, nonmetaphorical form of historical writing and of historical consciousness’. See: Frank Ankersmit, History and Tropology: The Rise and Fall of Metaphor, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 19, 21.


Random examples include: John Zammito, Zammito, ‘Ankersmit’s Postmodernist Historiography: The Hyperbole of Opacity’, History and Theory 37 (1998), 330–346; Jurgen Pieters, ‘New Historicism: Postmodern Historiography between Narrativism and Heterology’, History and Theory 39 (2000), 21; Amy J. Elias, Sublime Desire: History and Post-1960s Fiction, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2005), 64; Heikki Saari, ‘On Frank Ankersmit’s Postmodernist Theory of Historical Narrativity’, Rethinking History 9 (2005), 5–21; Callum G. Brown, Postmodernism for Historians, (Harlow: Pearson Education Limited, 2005), 147; and, more recently, Mark Bevir, ‘Why Historical Distance is Not a Problem’, History and Theory 50 (2011), 25.


C. Behan McCullagh, ‘Review: Narrative Logic. A Semantic Analysis of the Historian’s Language by F. R. Ankersmit’, History and Theory 23 (1984), 394–403.


Ewa Domanska (ed.), ‘Franklin R. Ankersmit’, in Encounters: Philosophy of History After Postmodernism, (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1998), 71.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘The Dilemma of Contemporary Anglo-Saxon Philosophy of History’, History and Theory 25 (1986), 1–27.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Historical Representation’, History and Theory 27 (1988), 205–228.


Frank Ankersmit, The Reality Effect in The Writing of History: The Dynamics of Historiographical Topology, (Amsterdam: Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, 1989).


Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, 137–153.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Reply to Professor Zagorin’, History and Theory 29 (1990), 275–296.


And that is also true for almost everything he wrote on ‘the nature of historical representation’ since then. So much that, in a paper presented in Groningen on the occasion of his retirement, in 2010, Ankersmit reminded his audience that he never deviated from the perception that representation and meaning precedes truth. Hence, ‘there is no knowledge and no truth without first having representation and meaning. The more technical details of this evolution from representation to truth I presented already in my book on narrative logic, now some thirty years ago. As may be clear from this, I have never changed my mind about this issue since then’. Frank Ankersmit, The Transfiguration of Distance into Function, History and Theory 50 (2011), 149.


Frank Ankersmit, Narrative Logic: The Semantics of Historian’s Language (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983), 1.


Ankersmit, ‘The Dilemma’, 16.


For this theoretical move, he also relied on Hayden White, but it would not be an overstatement to say that Ankersmit did not fully embrace the Whitean branch of narrativism. I mean, he recognized many times, beginning with this article of 1986, the revolution provoked by White’s ‘opus magnus’ Metahistory. However, his compliments to White’s achievements always came with a ‘but’: but White did not care about ‘distinguishing between satisfactory and unsatisfactory interpretations’; but White went too far by suggesting ‘that historical controversy is pure linguistic’, while ‘we must not forget that it is always the historical data mentioned by the historian which makes them into the objects they are’; but White’s four tropes unfortunately resemble Kant’s four categories of understanding, both being ‘conditions of possibility’ for philosophical/historical knowledge, which is a limitation, so on and so forth. See: Ankersmit, ‘The Dilemma’, 16.


Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979).


Ankersmit, ‘Reply to Professor Zagorin’, 278, emphasis mine.


Ankersmit himself recognized this paradox in his work in the preface of Sublime Historical Experience: ‘Theories of representation are, essentially, theories about how the whole of a historical text is related to the past that it is a representation of – and this is a problem that cannot be reduced to how a historical text’s individual statements relate to the past. So there is no obvious and necessary link between theories of historical representation on the one hand and theories about the statement or explanation on the other. To put it provocatively – but precisely because of this with the clarity that is needed here – one can quite well be (as I happen to be myself) an adherent of positivist or empiricist accounts of historical writing for what takes place in the historical text on the level of the statement while being, at the same time, an adherent of a theory of historical representation for the text as a whole’. Frank Ankersmit, Sublime Historical Experience, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005), xiv. This is something that Chris Lorenz found problematic in his work (also in White’s) and, for that reason, he called it ‘inverted positivism’, i.e., a sophisticated form to still address the same positivist’s assumptions by ‘inverting’ it in favor of one’s own position or argument. In response to Lorenz, Ankersmit admitted that he invited this kind of criticism towards himself, since he didn’t clearly distance himself from the empiricist’s position on the level of the descriptive sentences. And the reason for this, from Ankersmit’s perspective, is that he had been, for a long time, ‘indifferent to what theory one prefers with regard to them. I do not care at all whether one advocates an empiricist, positivist, post-positivist, neo-Marxist, Bayesian, deconstructivist, idealist, holist or non-holist account of descriptive sentences’. See: Chris Lorenz, ‘Can Histories Be True? Narrativism, Positivism and the “Metaphorical Turn”’, History and Theory 37 (1998), 309–329; Frank Ankersmit, ‘Beware of the Gurus!’, Rethinking History 19 (2014), 133–135.


See: Ankersmit, ‘Historical Representation’, 223–224.


Patrick Finney, ‘Keith Jenkins and the Heroic Age of British Postmodern Theory, Rethinking History 17 (2013), 172.


Keith Jenkins, ‘O Fim da História’ (The End of History), Revista do Mestrado de História 10 (2007), 12–13; Keith Jenkins, At the Limits of History: Essays on Theory and Practice, (London and New York: Routledge, 2009), 4.


Jenkins, At the Limits of History, 7.


See: Frank Ankersmit, Meaning, Truth and Reference in Historical Representation, (New York: Cornell University Press, 2012), 59–62; 68–73.


Part of this ‘project’ has been fulfilled by the journal of theory and practice called Rethinking History (not coincidently, I suppose, the same title of Jenkins’ book of 1991), co-founded and edited by Munslow and Rosenstone (from 1997 till 2017). Both stepped-down from direct editorial responsibilities at the end of 2017, after 20 years (then assuming the role of founding editors). Kalle Pihlainen and Patrick Finney are the new editors of the journal, responsible for stepping ‘into their shoes’. See: Patrick Finney & Kalle Pihlainen, ‘Editorial’, Rethinking History 22 (2018), 1–2.


Alun Munslow, Deconstructing History, (London & New York: Routledge, 1997), 111.


Munslow, Deconstructing, 112.


Munslow, Deconstructing, 188–189.


Robert Rosenstone, ‘Confessions of a Postmodern (?) Historian’, Rethinking History 8 (2004), 161.


Rosenstone, ‘Confessions’, 165.


Beverley Southgate, ‘Getting Away with It: Why History Still Matters’, Rethinking History 21 (2017), 490.


Southgate, ‘Getting Away with It’, 490


Beverley Southgate, Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom, (London & New York: Routledge, 2003).


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Review of Postmodernism in History: Fear or Freedom’, Rethinking History 8 (2004), 352, emphasis mine.


Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, 149.


Ankersmit, ‘Historical Representation’, 226.


Carlo Ginzburg, History, Rhetoric, and Proof, (Hanover: University Press of New England, 1999), 25.


Carlo Ginzburg, ‘Microhistory: Two or Three Things That I Know about It’, Critical Inquiry 20 (1993), 32.


About Ankersmit’s interpretation of other authors, see footnote 70.


Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, 148.


Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, 148.


Rorty’s statement here seems to be a bit unclear. Ankersmit quoted the same passage in his article of 1989, referring back then to a photocopy or a draft version of Rorty’s piece ‘Freud and Moral Reflection’, provided by the author himself. But considering the published article that appear later in 1991, there is a new and clearer version of the same statement, which I quote here: ‘Freud made the paradigm of self-knowledge the discovery of the fortuitous materials out of which we must construct ourselves rather than the discovery of the principles to which we must conform’. Richard Rorty, Freud and Moral Reflection, in Essays on Heidegger and Others, (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 154.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Het einde van vijf eeuwen Westerse geschiedboefening’, NRC Handelsblad, June 26, 3. I would like to thank Adriaan van Veldhuizen for his review of my translation from the original Dutch.


Or perhaps I should say, of a transmuted version of historicism. Because, according to Ankersmit, historicism located its ‘narrative logic’ in the ‘wrong place’, i.e., in the ‘historical reality itself’. And, for Ankersmit, narrative logic should be rather concentrated in the historical text or ‘narratio’. So, what he wanted to do with historicism was to ‘translate’ it (or to transform it, for that is what ‘translation’ also means) ‘from a theory on historical objects into a theory of historical writing’. Then, in the conclusion, he reinforced this idea by saying that ‘this study can be seen as a plea for a historist philosophy of history, which is supported by the fact that nearly all the historiography written by modern and older historians is consonant with historist assumptions’. Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, 116, 228. Not coincidently, this was Ankersmit’s same aim in his last book: ‘The present book is mainly an attempt to translate the historicist theory of historical representation into a more contemporary philosophical idiom’. Ankersmit, Meaning, ix. Just an observation: Ankersmit used the term ‘historism’ in 1983 and in most of his oeuvre since then to differentiate it from the ‘historicism’ (speculative philosophies of history) criticized by Popper. But in the book of 2012, he opted for the term ‘historicism’ in reference to the German tradition. About Ankersmit’s historicist philosophy of history, see also: Herman Paul & Adriaan van Veldhuizen, ‘A Retrieval of Historicism: Frank Ankersmit’s Philosophy of History and Politics’, History and Theory 57 (2018), 33–55. My PhD dissertation relies on the same presupposition, beginning from its title: Frank Ankersmit: The Metamorphosis of Historicism (UNESP, 2018).


Ankersmit, Meaning, 2.


Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, 116.


Jenkins, ‘O Fim da História’, 18.


Ankersmit’s concern with society having this ‘awareness of the past’ might also be one of the noticeable differences between him and Jenkins, considering that, for the latter, ‘most people never have had, still don’t and probably never will have what contemporary historians call a ‘historical consciousness’, that is to say, a consciousness of the historicized past like theirs…’. Jenkins, At the Limits of History, 5.


Frank Ankersmit, A Escrita da História: a Natureza da Representação Histórica, (Londrina: EDUEL, 2016), 352–353.


Ankersmit, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism’, 149.


Keith Jenkins, ‘On Disobedient Histories’, Rethinking History 7 (2003), 383.


Jenkins, ‘The End of the Affair’, 279.


Which is also evident in his Aesthetic Politics, where he pursued the kind of ‘practical political theory’ which, according to him, aimed ‘at finding out how an agreement can be found between distinct and often conflicting political rules or ideologies. What both ideas of practical political theory [his aesthetic and the traditional practical philosophy (J.M.)] have in common is an affinity for moderation and for the juste milieu’. Hence, even though his political philosophy as advocated in this book, in first place, joined hands with the non-foundationalist and non-metaphysical approach typical of postmodernism, it is obvious, in second place, that his high esteem for moderation is also where they both separate. Frank Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics: Political Philosophy Beyond Fact and Value, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1996), 378n.


Frank Ankersmit, Historical Representation, (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2001), 21.


In one of his critiques towards Ankersmit’s ‘postmodernist historiography’, John Zammito observed that Ankersmit fell victim to the same ‘hyperbole which he himself cautions against’, because of his critique of empiricist models of historical research and writing. Zammito, ‘Ankersmit’s Postmodernist Historiography’, 330, 338. Ankersmit’s possible objection to Zammito would be that this is just another ‘empiricist argument that he marshals against my position’, for he by no means was attempting against the rationality of historical discipline while criticizing the empiricist models but relying on a new kind of rationality for historical writing (based on what he called ‘narrative logic’ and its narrative substances). Ankersmit, Historical Representation, 50.


Ankersmit, History and Tropology, 182–188.


Ankersmit, A Escrita da História, 248, emphasis mine.


Perez Zagorin, ‘Historiography and Postmodernism: Reconsiderations’, History and Theory 29 (1990), 266.


Frank Ankersmit; Jonathan Menezes, ‘Historical Experience Interrogated: A Conversation’, Journal of the Philosophy of History 11 (2017), 253.


Ankersmit, ‘Reply to Professor Zagorin’, 296, emphasis mine.


Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, 17.


Ankersmit, Narrative Logic, 30.


Hayden White, ‘Postmodernism and Textual Anxieties’, in The Fiction of Narrative: Essays on History, Literature and History, 1957–2007, (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2007), 313.


Ankersmit, ‘Historical Representation’, 209, 214.


Ankersmit, Meaning, 48.


Ankersmit, Sublime, xii–xiv.


Frank Ankersmit, ‘Introduction: Forum Debate on Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen’s Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography’, Journal of the Philosophy of History 11 no. 1 (2017): 1–10.


Ankersmit, ‘Introduction’, 2.


Ankersmit, ‘Introduction’, 3–4.


One of the anonymous readers of this article observed (and I agree with this observation) that Ankersmit is a ‘strong reader’ (or a very participant one), whose interpretations of other thinkers usually tell more about himself than about the authors under discussions. In this sense, I hasten to add that my observations here are not to correct Ankersmit’s viewpoint, but to put my own perspective in this game of interpretations about authors like Ginzburg (commented before) or Jenkins.


Including some of his fellows in the postmodernist enterprise, like Alun Munslow. In a recent account of Jenkins’ work, he admitted that ‘worried historians are correct that Keith and I are willing to abandon the epistemologically compliant ‘history of a particular kind’ (i.e., the kind that is empirical-analytical-representationalist)’. But then he hastened to add that ‘unlike Keith, I want to retain some sort of authorial engagement with the time before now. Keith sees no need for a ‘history function’, however we choose to define it’. According to Munslow, ‘while acknowledging that some history maybe puerile, my compromise is defined through my belief in the concept of ‘the-past-as-history’. Let’s tell each other narratives about the past in as many forms as we can imagine that collectively we can judge as being moral, helpful, and useful. I do not believe in ‘the lessons of the past’, but perhaps, and unlike Keith, I still prefer to tell what I think are moral stories about the time before now. I like to think that as scarce as ‘moral history’ is, the supply always exceeds its demand’. Alun Munslow, On Keith Jenkins, Rethinking History 17 (2013), 260.


Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics, 121.


See: Ankersmit, Aesthetic Politics, xii, 375f. Later in his political-historical manifesto, Ankersmit declared his support of the Rankean insight ‘that history is the politician’s (and the state’s) best guide’. And, more recently, he concluded that ‘Ranke and his fellow historicists were right, once again, in believing that history is basically the history of past politics – a belief that the critics always considered historicism’s main sin’. See: Frank Ankersmit, ‘Manifesto for an Analytical Political History’, in Keith Jenkins, Sue Morgan and Alun Munslow (eds)., Manifestos for History, (London and New York: Routledge, 2007), 184; and: Ankersmit, Meaning, 246.


Ankersmit, A Escrita da História, 18.


Ankersmit, Sublime, 105.


Ankersmit; Menezes, ‘Historical Experience Interrogated’, 270.

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