Cultural history serves many purposes, the ends of which we can hardly agree upon. The idea of this history as a form of cultural preservation—that is, the writing about older times and its artifacts like customs, dress, art, literature, religion, music, etc. for memory’s sake—was famously criticized by Nietzsche as “antiquarian;” idle and impractical for political change, action, or progress. Alternately, we can consider how historical works like Johan Huizinga’s The Waning of the Middle Ages (1919), Jacob Burckhardt’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860), or Henry Adams’ Mont Saint Michel & Chartres (1904) demonstrate an early modern desire to understand an older world-outlook not just for its own sake, since they all continued on to play significant roles in public life beyond being historians. Their study of cultural history, then, shaped the ways in which these thinkers came to analyze society. It can be said that, through their cultural-historical writings about Europe, these authors were better able to convey the inherent plurality and diversity within any society, and to take lessons from these observations which they applied when tackling the problems of their own day and age. We can, then, gather a couple of questions that will serve as suggested topics for this issue: How does the study of cultural history help us “politically”? How practical are the lessons that reading cultural history imparts? Or, is it the case that cultural history serves no purpose beyond sustaining a collective recollection of a bygone age? Is this end-in-itself something valuable? This issue welcomes submissions under the theme of “Cultural History and its (Political) Lessons,” broadly construed, as a way to engage the ways in which cultural history deepens our understanding of (and appreciation for) the complexities of society. We welcome essays on relevant historians for this topic, including the aforementioned Huizinga, Burckhardt, and Adams, but are also open to essays that tackle these questions from another angle or through another thinker or region.
Proposals due: June 22nd 2021
Final drafts due: April 1st 2022