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Towards a new historiographic paradigm[1]




                                                                          Carlos Barros

 University of Santiago de Compostela



   At the end of the 20th century, the crisis of history is being discussed, and rightly so. The dictionary of the Spanish Royal Academy of Language says of the word ‘crisis’ that it means two things at the same time: an important mutation and a difficult situation.In other words, that a crisis exists when there are difficulties but at the same time a change is under way, and most surely the latter explains the former. Yet, it is seldom seen that way. When a crisis is mentioned, it conjures up a scenario of problems and complications rather than one of  solutions and opportunities, which makes its resolution ever harder.


History in crisis


   But when we speak of the crisis of history some people may think, and also rightly so, that there are those who belive in the crisis of history and those who simply do not. However our discipline‘s crisis is independent of the degree of acquaintance a colleage may have of it. When in Octuber 1917 the revolution of the Czarist Russia exploded, some people might be sewing while these events were taking place, and that did not make them the less extraordinary on historical grounds[2] . Or is it not our task as social scientists to go beyond the appearances and the daily routines of  things and attempt to look  at  what occurs at the depths of historical moments and at the heart of our doubly historical discipline ?

   The crisis of history as a discipline is part of a general crisis that pertains ideology, politics, values and which affects social and human sciences as a whole. Much of what will be said about  the crisis and about possible solutions, could be applied mutatis mutandis to anthropology or sociology. We will, however, limit ourselves to what we know and are more interested in: history as a profession at the turn of the century.


   The general nature of this crisis has its origin in the simultaneity of the crisis of history and the crisis of the writing of history. It concerns all dimensions of the profession of historian and his or her relation to society. We are, therefore, living through a crisis, a difficult/ mutated scenario, which is global because it affects the practice of history (the way of conducting research and of writing history); the theory of history ( the concepts and theoretical approaches underlying our work); and the social function of history (underestimated in a  future world  that some envisage technocratic and devoid of soul).


   The first victim of the historiographical crisis has been the economic, determinist and struturalist paradigm that has characterised  new historians from the Second World War onwards[3].  But it has not stopped there as George Iggers has demonstrated[4].  It also concerns the very historical definition of our discipline, whose origin dates back to 19th century positivism. Critical with history as a science, these historians advocate its comparison with literature through its connexion with fiction, hermeneutics or the ‘linguistic turn’ proposed from the Unites States.  Productive epistemic relations in their moderate form which, however, turn destructive when they take us back, whether their stalwart proponents want it or not, to the 19th century, when history was a pre-paradigmatic discipline, thus bringing to nothing all the background accumulated by our discipline for over a century. If  we follow this path the difficulty-element of our crisis hits rock bottom. It is then when the element of paradigmatic change, necessary to provide answers to the anomalies that question our old identity ( the new history), starts to impose itself.


  We will explain in three phases how this turn-of-the-century crisis of history[5] started to unfold, taking as reference the decades of the seventies, the eighties and the nineties ( the tendencies we analyse are apparent at the end of each chronological period). At the same time, it should be clear that we are speaking about the evolution of international historiography in general and not of a concrete country except when illustrating an argument. It is a well-known fact that Spain and Latin America have received the impact of the most advanced historiographies with a chronological lag that would force us to introduce time variations in the case of our national historiographies. A lag which- and this should be pointed out- is dwindling. Over the last decade of the century, the historical globalisation is making the differences among the national historiographies smaller as changes are transmitted more quickly. In the 21st century, these changes and evolutions of history will be lived even more simultaneously.



The first return of the subject


   The sociopolitical and ideological context that characterised the seventies is marked by the backing down on what May 1968 meant in history and its writing. In this context of backward  movement the economic, structuralistic and determinist paradigm dominant in the sixties in our discipline and in other social sciences receives its first blow . The first historiographical reaction to the rampant objectivism, which heralded a happy future thanks to the inescapable development of the structural contradictions, was the return of the subject virtually inscribed, but never developed, in the matrices of the new history, be it Annaliste or Marxist. History discovered, then, the subject before sociology and philosophy[6] did. Almost twenty years before sociologists  began to investigate and reflect on the social actor, the rational choice or the collective action or  before it became fashionable to reflect on the philosophy of the subject.


   We have therefore that 1970s European historiography’s advancement is greater than that of economic and structural history: French historiography by developing what came to be known as history of mentalities and which later resulted in history of the imaginery, historical anthropology, new cultural anthropology[7]... and British historiography by promoting a new type of non-structuralist social history.


   In the first case we are speaking of the passing from the second to the third Annales, of the rediscovery of the mental subject already present in the work and reflection of the founders of  this school. In the second case, we are before an original development of historical materialism, with a strong empiric and anthropological foundation and focused on the historical study of revolts and social change.


   However, the British rediscovery of the social subject occurred too late and too soon. I will make myself clear. Too late because the common paradigm, those consensus shared by historians  during the central decades of the century had clearly evolved, in the sixties, towards an economic, structuralist and determinist approach that also dominated the academic ( and non-academic) reading of Marxism. We should be reminded here that the reaction of Marxist historians before the excesses of structuralism takes place too late. 1978 was the year of publication of E.P. Thompson’s The Poverty Of  Theory: Or an Orrery of Errors , a superb book - although open to criticism as Perry Anderson, among others, showed. This book advocates a Marxism with a subject as opposed to the objective Marxism, devoid of conscience and history, of the proponents of the Althusserian structuralism. And too late because when this cultural and humanistic reading of Marx that understood history  as the history of class struggle becomes apparent in Great Britain, the ideological and political context had changed to such an extent that Marxism, whatever the version, no longer held any interest. As a consequence, doctoral theses and dissertations on conflicts, revolts and revolutions were no longer done. And lastly, it came too late if we take into account that the interest in ‘hard’social history reappears in the nineties, as we have analised elsewhere[8], and that the conditions for the transition to a new paradigm that can take on the (social and mental ) subject are just now starting to appear.


   These historiographical advances which twenty years ago put the subject back into the centre of history are, therefore, an inescapable reference to the discussions under way on the new paradigm, whose main challenge is the integration, in a unique approach, of subjective and objective history  (whether we are speaking of the historical agent or of the historian himself). 20th century historiography has oscilated between both. The future of the history of mentalities and of the history of social change is, consequently, in the global change of paradigms.


The fragmentation


   In the eighties there is a radical change in the political and ideological context, notably in the United States and Great Britain. We are living through the years of neoconservatism, which later was called neoliberalism or single thinking and are also the years of the spreading of postmodernism as the fashionable philosophical proposal. Western historiography becomes fragmented into themes, methods and schools to a limit hard to imagine before. French colleages called this the crumbling of history[9].


 The first great rift was the return of the concept of the mental and/or social subject in the seventies. Until that moment the concern was mainly with economic history and with the history of social structures[10]. From then onwards we have an objective history and a subjective history and it is there where the diversification and the separation of some specialities away from others starts: economic history seldom looks at the subject. The history of mentalities seldom includes the socio-economic aspect.

 Some others claim, and not without reason, that the fragmentation of history and the unavoidable specialisation is nothing more than a crisis of development, which bears witness to the maturity of our discipline. It is obvious that going from the monocultive which meant the socio-economic history to the current hetereogenity, where all aspects of the past are considered interesting, is a great advance. But fragmentation is not without problems because it takes us away from the global picture of the human past that science and society demand.


   In the eighties the second great return of the subject takes place. In this case, it concerns the traditional subject - the biography, the narration, the political history - whose return implies a clear denial of the 20th century historiographical revolution, promoted by the Annales School, Marxism and reclycled sectors of traditional historiography. At the same time, there is an implosion, an explosion from inside, of the common paradigm of the new historians: a global crisis of the three great currents that renewed the way of writing history in the century about to end. The crisis of the Annales, and those of social history and of cliometry[11], were discussed separatedly as everyone saw the mote in their neighbours’eye and not the beam in his own thus failing to understand until this very day, when it is all the more evident, that the the crisis of history has a global nature, to say nothing of the underlying change of paradigms.


    T.S. Khun, the author of Structure of the Scientific Revolutions, has found that the shared paradigms that unify a discipline remain in effect while there is not a common paradigm that substitutes them. This accounts for the fact that in the eighties and even in the nineties the same things that were said twenty years ago are repeated in many historiography classes and projects submitted by applicants to lecturer posts, the only occasion in which a lecturer - in Spain-  must define his concept of history and where it is usual to devote part of the project to positivism, another one to Marxism and a third one to Annales in the hope that since three of the members of the examination board are randomly chosen it would be difficult that they do not feel closer to one of the three currents. That was how applicant’s projects were typically done, an invaluable source to study the shared paradigms of a discipline until not so far back in time[12]. This demonstrates the strength of the inertia of a paradigm that lives on, despite the crisis, while no alternative takes shape.


Philosophy versus history


    In 1989  reached its climax a decade marked by neoliberalism and postmodernism, historical fragmentation and the crisis of the idea of progress. Such idea is the backbone of the three most important historiographical movements of the 20th century and of social sciences in general, which have nurtured from their origins, as it was the case of scientific history, on the philosophy of Enlightment.


   The ‘attacks’ from political philosophy to the idea of progress[13], which come on the one hand form the thesis of Francis Fukuyama and on the other from postmodernity pertain one of the most important shared paradigms of 20th century historians: the past/present/future relationship. These were concepts that until recently were successfully interwoven: we study the past to understand the present and thus construct a better future- a socialist future- it was even claimed from Marxism.


   The proclamation of ‘the end of history’ had its origin in a clever and intuitive article by neconservative Fukuyama written in the summer of 1989, when the author could not know that by the end of that very year the Berlin Wall would fall and the transition from real socialism to capitalism ( which later proved frustrating, wild and crimminal) would start in Eastern Europe. According to Fukuyama, a close exponent of Hegel, history had come to the end of the line and all the countries in the world would unify around the democratic system and around what  is euphemistically called ‘market economy’. The historians’ reaction was one of hostility and contempt. In other words, they  killed the messenger, shrugging off his announcement as a cunning imperialist political argument. Some historians, without having read Fukuyama’s works, even understood that he intended to bring to an end the discipline that earns our living . They mistook history with a small ‘h’, history seen as sucession of events, with History spelt with a capital letter of universal history.[14] It should be pointed out that Fukuyama himself in later works has qualified and ‘self-rectified’ his innitial approach to the point of denying it and recognising his mistake in an interview in the New York Times ( August 30th 1998), once the failure of the transitions in Eastern Europe was evident, especially in Russia and the crisis of the emerging ecomonies of the Far East had taken place, economic events that threaten with a worldwide recession.


   All in all, what have we learnt from the Fukuyama controversy ? Simply that history does not have a pre-established aim[15], quite a revolutionary conclusion because we come from a Judeo-Christian tradition, whose providential reading of history establishes its end at the Final Judgement. Such teleologism was continued by 19th century German philosophy, replacing the resurrection of the dead and the second coming of Christ with first the Hegelian liberal state and later with Marx and Engels’s communist society . The most influencing western philosophy has been finalist.  Does not the fact alone of accepting now that the future is open justify our speaking of a new paradigm in history, one which makes us freer because we know that we are responsible for our destiny ?  The futures are manyfold, and the function of the historian, by making the crossroads of history known, is to have our contemporaries realise that there are alternative contingent futures.


   If humankind does not ineluctably advance towards a happy end, does this mean that we should resign to what we have and renounce to ‘transforming the world’? No, to be sure. By renouncing to a determinist history - which is being vindicated today, strangely enough, by single thinking we recover a freedom for the subject, without messiamism, which does not rule out the great objectives, even the revolutionary ones, as Mexican neozapatism demonstrates.


  We have said that at the same time there had been an ‘attack’ from postmodernism to the past/present/future relationship. By postmodernism, we are refering here mainly to the work of  Jean-François Lyotard and Gianni Vattimo, whose influence has been especially great in Europe. In the case of the United States, there is a tendency to include inappropiatedly poststructuralists such as Michel Foucault and deconstructionists like Jacques Derrida under the label of a postmodernity whose positioning against intellectual commitment clashes with the accommplishments of such authors[16].


    Postmodern philosophers and Fukuyama certainly start from opposing assumptions. The former deny modernity and the latter says that its heyday has come, but both coincide on one thing: they deprive us of a future. Both approaches confuse historians by attacking the classical past/ present/future paradigm, because if  we do not have anything to say about the future,we have nothing to say of the past either.


   Fukuyama denies an alternative future because he claims that history has come to an end and therefore the future as something essentially different from the present disappears. His future is a continuous present . And postmodernism renounces the conquest of a better future which is based on the knowledge of the past and a criticism of the present, when it asserts that the failure of modernity leads to the notion of progress. In short, from either option the suggestion is made that there is no future for us as historians, except as isolated or marginal learned scholars, embedded in a past whose research has no social interest whatsoever.


   When we speak of historiographic postmodernity we do not want to imply that historians are conversant with the latest developments in that  philosophical current. Historians do not regularly read philosophy, but we do share with the turn-of-the-century philosopher an environmental postmodernism that fully affects the methodology of history and the philosophy that, whether we want it or not, underlies our work[17]. The disgregation of the discipline and the ‘everything goes attitude’, the lack of interest on the part of historians- as such- in the world around us and its problems, some sort of existential nihilism born of the post-1968 disenchantment, the exacerbated individualism, the anarchist oposition to all paradigm, etc.


    This takes us to look at postmodernism from its ambiguous and negative side. The vital feature that defines the postmodern historian - who usually subscribes to that view without knowing it- is that he finds himself at home in the crisis and the fragmentation of the discipline but without the will -or the interest- to overcome both flaws, which of course are not seen as such. This generates three stances:


   The first stance is that of those who argue that if 20th century historiographical paradigms have collapsed, why should we look for others? What they mean is: we are well without shared paradigms ( which some, without reading Khun, ‘inventing an adversary’ equal with simple orthodoxies’), ‘everything goes’, ‘certainties are over and done with’, ‘ everyone is free to act as he pleases’. Thus, they apply- many without even being acquainted with it- Feyeranbend’s proposal of replacing rationalism by anarchism in the theory of knowledge[18]. It is, at heart, a conservative position in which the present - as we have already said -is perpetuated.


   The second stance, and the most coherent one, is that held by those who mantain that the  new paradigm is fragmentation itself with all that it means for the historian in terms of freedom, pluralism and guarantee against political or academic ‘orthodoxy’. In other words, the methodological anarchy carried to its logical conclusion by paradoxically turning it into an institutional category.

    The third stance is proposed by those who reduce postmodern history to new history or, more precisely, to the newest history: ‘linguistic turn’, microhistory or new cultural history. By so doing, they sometimes distort the intention of its proponents who seldom intend to wholly disregard the discourse of modernity[19].


   The three approaches (anarchist,‘coherent’ or neopositivist postmodernity) share the abandonment, to a greater or a lesser extent, of the critical function of history and, in the worst of cases, a renounce to any  critical definition of history as a science, which seriously conditions the future of our discipline in society and in the academe.


    The definitive blow to the process of disgregation and dis-orientation of history as a profession during the eighties was the assertion - one which incidentally went unanswered- that the market replaces people as subject of history, in an astonishing turn in the intellectual ( and economic) history that has brought us back to an objectivism, an economicism and a structuralism of a different kind than that of the sixties and seventies, but more harmful epistemologically if possible, because it coincides with a socio-historical retreat of the humanist values that have informed social and human sciences since they were first conceived.


   And with this we approach the nineties which, surprisingly enough, are proving decisive in several senses, among them in the change of paradigms in our disciplines as, without our noticing it, the foundations for the 21st century are being laid.


A new century, a new paradigm


   The context of the nineties is the very crisis of neoliberalism and postmosdernism. It is becoming fashionable to speak of ‘middle roads’ between modernity and postmodernity. The time has come, therefore, to seek a new modernity, one which is more self-critical, more local, more social and  cultural, state-and freetrade-oriented , one more complex and difficult that does not abandon criticism but one which does not renounce either to a transformation of society guided by reason.


    Our discipline is, certainly, in crisis. But it has also mantained and even increased its dynamism. There is a stable premise among historians ( civil servants in many countries) which, by means of tacit consensus, is replacing or trying to replace the paradigms in crisis. Some historians insist on the crisis scenario and some others on the increase in the number of studies on history. It is even said that never before have so many historical works been published as nowadays. Some affirm that there is not such a crisis because such works are being published. Actually there is some truth in both diagnosis. Their confluency is resulting in a transition between 20th century paradigms and 21th century paradigms, which is giving rise to new consensus, still perceived in a blur, that are transforming the way of writing history, and not always to the better. The new consensus have, in our view, positive and negative aspects.  Among the negative aspects is the change of paradigms that has initially taken place without a suitable degree of self-awareness, debate and reflection. In order to fight this flaw we organised in 1993 the First International Conference ‘History under Debate’ with a view to grasping and understanding the changes under way,  the second edition of which is being organised and will take place between 14-18 July 1999.  The aim is now to contribute to the process of formation of new paradigms, that is to say, the writing of history in the 21st century. One of its features will be a greater interest for historiographical reflection.  There is, in fact, a growing number of colleages that combine- or try to combine -empirical work with historiographical reflection and debate.


   The question we pose  therefore is the following: how can a paradigm be changed? Is there any  world or national authority that establishes the paradigms that must rule a discipline ? No, strictly speaking. The forces behind the paradigmatical changes are not usually seen and they are imposed through consensus and discussion rather than through force. We verify that there are three reasons that have usually made us change the line of research:1) the law of decreasing return.  Both individually and collectivelly, when a line of research is exhausted, another one is usually sought.  Further reseach on a subject or methology on which work has been done for too long a time does not add to historical knowledge, and then , the change takes place, for instance: the transition ( on which other factors have also an incidence) from economic history to mentality, cultural and anthropological history. 2) the nemesis with avant-garde historiographies. Hispanic historiographies, traditionally dependent on Europe or North America are a good example (to supersede). 3) the influence of society. This is nowadays a key factor: we are before a turn of the century that coincides with a change in civilization which, naturaly enough, affects all social sciences.


   And historiography does not always go ahead of history. To the sixteen theses of ‘La historia que viene’ ( which is actually the conclusion of the First Conference ‘History under Debate’) we would now add a further one, the seventeenth, which would stress that ‘the future of our discipline depends on our capacity to adapt to the profound, vertiginous and paradoxical changes that are occurring between the 20th and the 21st centuries’. It seems a platitude, but the truth is that we are too often deluded into believing that the academe is oblivious to the world ( or even worse, that the world is oblivious to the academe).


  Let us look at some of the challenges that the new century poses, in our view, to the new paradigm of the writing of history:


    1.- Social demands derived from globalisation. We understand by globalisation the phenomenon of word-level economy ( anticipated by  Marx in the  Communist Manifesto) and media ( the global village heralded by MacLuhan), an objective process only partially identifiable with the ( transitory) neoliberal policies[20]. In which way may or is it affecting the informative, cultural social and economic unification of the world to the history that is being written? Which are the challenges that globalisation pose to historigraphy ?


- The fragmented history of the eighties is not valid for the globalised world ahead. It is urgent that we recover the concept of global history; that we seek new forms of implementing it and study why the paradigm of ‘total history’ of 20th century historigraphy failed.


- The new paradigm of history as a whole will be digital The computer not only influences, or will influence, the access to the sources ( CD-ROM, digitalised files), the method of work ( word processing and database) or the process of divulgation, but also, and most importantly, it is going to change the final outcome of our work. It leads us to  the construction of another object ( the means is the message), which is obviously a more global one. The possibility of introducing, together with the text, sound and visual elements ( still and animated) in a CD-ROM or in a DVD-ROM, alters the way of both  stating the fact and doing research. Is it not the case that the simultaneity of the written, oral and visual history makes possible a more global reconstruction of our object? That is certainly the case of the hipertext (habitually used when navigating through Internet), which widely supersedes the possibilities of a book, that so far was almost the only means at our disposal for doing research and where we can interpolate some textual quotations and footnotes, provided we do not abandon a linear discourse ( every book has a beginning and an end). With hipertext, by means of links, we will be able to gain access to much greater deal of secondary information, to another book, which in turn, may take us to other links, in such a way that there is no longer a single beginning or end but several readings, as reality itself - always multidimensional and hence more faithfully reconstructed. History will thus be more global from an empirical point of  view, not just theoretically. To this, we should add the possibilities that virtual reality[21] and artificial intellegence offer. In short, new technologies will allow us to overcome the technical and epistemological limitations that have thwarted our accounting for historical reality globally.


With Internet a new community of historians is born.  The digital web changes the rules of socialition in the community of historians. The national communities of historians will still be important, but the international community will be closer, more important as debate and global communication will be easier and freer, in every field and for historians as a whole. The formation of the new paradigms under way will benefit from the web (E-mail, WEB sites, news groups and chatlines) as the distribution of users (and of the languages involved) becomes really international.


 - With globalisation,world historiography turns more policentric. Western historiographies in the 19th and 20th centuries have always had a focal centre (Germany, France, the United Kingdom. . . ). In 1993, in the First Conference ‘History Under  Debate’, Peter Burke claimed that , right now, renewal is to be found in the periphery. True and we add: what is important now is that each historiography develops its capacity to think for itself, free of ‘colonial’ bounds, but, and this is important, with a close knowledge of what is happening in the world ( more accessible now thanks to new technologies). There is no longer a great centre pushing changes ahead. Any historiography may become the centre of a proposal. From the United States there has somehow been an attempt to reproduce old dependencies, but it will not be easy to extend the North American world hegemony from film-making to the academic world, and even less likely to the field of human and social sciences, once we have left behind the ‘cold war’ and when we are so sensitive to what regards our national identities, as post-colonial historiographies and the ‘subordinate studies’ in India and other countries demonstrate and which attest to what extent historiographial decentralisation and decolonisation already belong to the new global paradigm.


   2.- Cultural and educative demands that will condition the 21st century: the historian’s answer. We are experiencing a return- still a timid one- to formative and humanistic values[22] which should not go unnoticed. It is a consequence of the retreat of the economicism and neoliberal technocraticism that characterised the eighties and  part of the nineties. In some countries like Spain, the role of history and humanities is being  considered anew[23]. The proponents of the ‘middle road’ between neoliberlism and socialism,Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, made education  their chief cause in their latest political ( and successful) campaigns in the United Kingdom and the United States. New values and challenges are becoming established for the role of history in the new century: how should historical research be conducted in the multicultural, multiracial and multinational century of globalisation?


3.- Political and social demands of the new ( and the old) political and social subjects.The new ( and old) political subjects seek their identity in History at a local, regional, national and macronational level. History has been mythizised by new (and old) nationalisms, which revives the critical function of the historian, as E.J. Hobsbwam has pointed out. Furthermore the new (and old) collective subjects seek the intellectual and the historian’s commitment to elaborate their discourse and practice. That is the case of the new social movements derived from ethnic groups, genders, age groups, sexual options .... In the case of conflicts, revolts and revolutions, they are returning[24] in the last decade to the historical arena in Eastern Europe ( 1989-1991); in Chiapas (1994); France (1995- 1998); in Belgium against pederasts and their accomplices;  in the United States, where one million Afroamerican men gathered to proclaim their grievances; in Spain ( six million people took to the streets in July 1997 to protest against the murder of Miguel Ángel Blanco, incidentally the graphic motif of the second edition of the poster of ‘History under Debate’[25]). Social movements, when they are truly significative end up by drawing academics. For the first time since the sixties and seventies, intellectuals recover in some countries a certain social and political commitment  (which has given rise to a bitter but necessary debate). Right here, in Mexico, we have the best example at the UNAM, where academics have been working since 1994 in favour of a social, ethical and democratic commitment as regards the Chiapas situation. It is not something limited to the ‘Third World’ but  a phenomenon that is growing into world dimensions. France is also seeing a return of intellectual commitment, which was sparked by the 1995 social demonstrations, and whose main concern is with illegal inmigrants. It was first led by film-makers, artists and writers but it also includes social scientists like Pierre Bourdieu, who has created the one most important controversy in French social sciences - through the group Raisons d’Agir- on intellectual commitment since Zola and Sartre and Jacques Derrida, who in his work Spectres de Marx brought new life to the debate over Marxism, a taboo subject among French intelligentsia since the time of Althusser. We are obviously before  quite a different commitment from that we saw in the sixties and seventies[26]: it is less partisan, less unidimensional and absorbing, stemming from academic specialisation rather than from political commitment, away from television (impervious to debate and criticism, unlike Internet). It was foreseeable. How could we limit the ‘returns’? The synthesis we are seeing between modernity and postmodernity gives rise to paradoxes like the funny disconnection between historian and citizen some colleages suffer.  They are committed in their private lives but mantain out of inertia academicist stances in their work as researchers and teachers. And this occurs precisely when the main political and social challenge of the new century to professional life is the search for a past for the subjects who struggle to determine the future.


   3.- Scientific demands: the redifinition of history as science. The positivist 19th century definition, which is still influential in our discipline ( to know the past ‘as it was’), is untenable nowadays. Because a science cannot be thought of without a conscience ( Edgar Morin), a subject without an object, the theories of chaos and complexity are going into great detail on this direction. The new physics , is again, the surest reference to redefine scientifically our discipline with a view towards the future. In thesis nº 3 of ‘ La historia que viene’ we asserted that ‘ it is a false alternative to say that history, as it cannot be “objective” and “exact”, is not a science’ because we know today that the task of science is not to find out an unexisting, absolute truth,  since the only scientific truths are the relative truths. Such is our future: not to abandon the  identity of history as a science but to define it anew by relying on the concept of science, of paradigm and of scientific revolution that is nowadays applied by physics and elaborated by the philosophy of science. In fact, the notion of new paradigm that we have been using historiographically for many years comes from epistemology and the history of science.


After the crisis


   The latest historiographical tendencies suggest the adequate avenue to overcome the crisis: they advance by synthesizing the oldest and the newest[27].


   The new paradigm cannot be- as it does not answer to the contextual demands or the consensus of the community-  the simple return to traditional history, individualistic, of the great battles but neither the leap in the dark of postmodern fragmentation, without this precluding an acceptance of the positive aspects of both approaches ( which converge just as likely as they diverge).


   The history and historiography of the new century cannot ignore entirely 20th century history and historigraphy, with all their valuable teachings and mistakes, to say nothing of a return to the 19th century. We would like to help create a better 21st century, post-postmodern, post-neoliberal, helping from history to construct a different modernity, a different learning, a different rationality, a different history and a different generation: you.


   Between the years 2010 and 2020 there will be, because of biological reasons, a great generational renewal, affecting research and teaching posts. As it is well known, the new and the young does not necessarily mean better, more progressive and efficient than the old. The last service the 1968 generation, the most self-critic and consistent, can do before leaving the greater and smaller decision-making posts  is to become a bridge so that the new generation -that has a poor knowledge of recent history- and therefore mythicizies it excessively- learns from our most inmediate past and is able to open new paths . Let us hope it be so, and that the ‘spirit’ of March Bloch be with us.


[1] This is the written version of the lectures delivered, under the same title, on April 23rd 1998 at the school of Social Sciences of the Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas ( San Cristóbal de las Casas) and on July 24th at the school of Arts and Humanities of the Universidad de Rosario (Argentina).

[2] In a recent British film Two Deaths ( 1995) several guests gather for a banquet at Ceaucescu’s doctor’s house while outside in the street the Romanian democratic revolution is taking place. They pretend to ignore a fact which, even before the end of the film, will radically change their lives.

[3]" El paradigma común de los historiadores del siglo XX”, La formación del historiador, nº 14, winter of 1994-95, Michoacán, p. 4-25; Estudios sociales, nº 10, 1996, Santa Fe, p. 21-44; Medievalismo, nº7, Madrid, 1997, p.235- 262.

[4]George IGGERS, la ciencia histórica en el siglo XX. Las tendencias actuales,Barcelona, 1995.

[5] The turn-of-the-century crisis is symetrical to the one positivist historiography went through at the start of the 20th century.

[6] It is usually the case that we are so attentive to the evolution of other disciplines which are more focused on theory that we tend to underestimate the findings of our historiographies to welcome enthusiastically similar ideas from other social sciences. This is an undesired effect of a way of understanding interdisciplinarity that ignores its own tradition.

[7]"La contribución de los Terceros Annales y las historia de las mentalidades. 1969-1989”, La otra historia: sociedad, cultura y mentalidades, Bilbao, 1993, p. 87-118.

[8]" El retorno del sujeto social en la historiografía española”, Estado, protesta y movimientos sociales, III Congreso de Historia Social, Vitoria, July 1997.

[9] François DOSSE, La historia en migajas. De “ Annales” a la “ nueva historia”, Valencia 1989 ( Paris 1987); one of the mistakes of this book, which so much stirred debate, is not having realised that fragmentation not only affected the school of Annales, but also all historiographical currents as well as the relationships among them.

[10] In the case of Spain we should add at least a decade to perceive more clearly these subjectivist changes in the way of investigating history.

[11]  Cuantitative history has been the most important contribution of the neopositivist current to the common paradigm.

[12]  Since 1995 it is becoming increasingly frequent to use the Conference Reports of the 1st Conference ‘History under Debate’ when writing teaching projects as a means of ensuring a more updated and controversial view of our discipline.

[13] 'Attacks’ between inverted commas because they are not unjustified. They have an objective basis which forces us to take them into account for the sake of intellectual rigour.

[14]  Israel SANMARTÍN, La historia según Fukuyama, 1989-1995, Santiago de Compostela,  dissertation, 1997; the reader may confirm that what would certainly disappear according to Fukuyama’s thesis is history seen as theoretical reflection and commitment with the progress of humankind, something historiographical positivism has always denied.

[15]  The history of humankind does not advance towards a pre-established aim, but it cannot be reversed either, thesis nº 5 of ‘La historia que viene’, Historia a debate, I, Santiago, 1995,p.101; the fall of comunism confirms the first part and the disaster that later occured in Eastern Europe, the dismantling of the welfare state built up by comunists confirms the second part.

[16]  On Foucault’s commitment by the end of the seventies and the early eighties with human rights, in the manner of Sartre, see François DOSSÉ, Historie du structuralisme, II, París, 1992,p 424-426; Derrida has been one of the French social scientists that has recently joined film-makers in the defense of inmigrants.

[17]  The linguistic reductionism, which has spread from the United States, is also claimed by postmoderm history but it has had a much lesser influence among historians than the mentioned environmental postmodernism.

[18]  Paul FEYERABEND, Tratado contra el método. Esquema de una teoría anarquista del conocimiento, Madrid, 1992 (London 1975).

[19]  The greatest problem here is to succumb to the illusion that the current crisis of history can be solved by changing the lines of research, promoting innovation, a necessary factor but not enough in itself given the global nature- methodological, epistemological and social- of the historiohraphical crisis.

[20]  To reduce globalisation to capitalism would be to make a similar mistake to that made by left politicians and academics when they identified - and fought- in the past democracy as a bourgeois phenomenon.

[21]  Computer advance and simulation have already made possible  three- dimension, animated, virtual reconstructions- on the basis of archeological excavations -of neolitic, ancient or medieval cities and other monuments.

[22]  Some reactionaries still intend to move against history . Here follows a pearl of wisdom found in a recent academic stay at the Universidad Nacional del Sur ( Argentina): it is unnecessary that the Government keeps on paying the formation of writers, philosophers, sociologists and psychologists, editorial on the front page of La Nueva Provincia ( Bahía Blanca, July 6th, 1998).  Some others believe it, they are democrats, and they even belong to left parties, but they do not say it, out of shame of course.

[23]  In this change, France follows suit. The government of Lionel Jospin, after the demonstration of October 15th 1998, which was attended by half a million secondary students, has promised a return to the ethical and civic formation of students by increasing attention to philosophy and literature (unlike the case of Spain, history kept its educative role in Socialist France) in the national curriculum, together with computer skills and mathematics.

[24]  This is the third return of the subject (social and collective). The first return occurred in the seventies, (mental and social) and the second in the eighties ( individual and political)


   osee note 8.


[26]  A sure way of ‘manipulating’ the debate is , of course, by holding the opposite.

[27]  In this we qualify Kuhn, who has a too simplistic view of the ( scientific) revolution as a break  between the new and the old ( paradigms).