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Home A brief, but erudite examination of the Renaissance artes historicae: Grafton's What Was History?

A BRIEF, BUT ERUDITE EXAMINATION OF THE RENAISSANCE ARTES HISTORICAE: GRAFTON'S WHAT WAS HISTORY?


Anthony Grafton, What Was History? The Art of History in Early Modern Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), ISBN 978-0-521-69714-9, pp. ix +319
James A.T. LANCASTER*

It is hard not to agree with Grafton’s concluding remarks; that What Was History? offers a “rich, complex, and compelling history of historical thought in the centuries before historicism” (254). Grafton is, of course, not referring to his own monograph, but rather to the early modern artes historicae, and the varied intellectual contributors who constitute the heart of this all too often overlooked tradition. But what makes this little book such a compelling history of historical thought is Grafton’s own considerable authorship; both the fluidity of his writing and his exacting grasp of the content. It is a quick, but plentiful read in which Grafton’s wit and intelligence animate both the obscure and the surprisingly modern in the art of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century historical scholarship. From Jean Bodin’s belief that witches could physically remove the genitalia of their male victims to analogies that play on P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster, Grafton’s What Was History? may be short, but it is a study that makes one want to know more about the artes historicae.

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