Twilight of History
Shlomo Sand, David Fernbach
Drawing on his four decades as a professional historian, Shlomo Sand interrogates the academic discipline of history, whose origin lay in the need for a national ideology. In the last few decades, traditional history has begun to fragment, yet only to give rise to a new role of historians as priests of official memory. Working in Israel has sharpened Sand’s perspective, since the role of history as national myth is particularly salient in a country where the Bible is treated as a history book. He asks such questions as: Is every historical narrative ideologically marked? Do political requirements and state power weigh down inordinately on historical research and teaching? And, in such conditions, can there be a morally neutral and ‘scientific’ truth? Despite his trenchant criticism of academic history, Sand would still like to believe that the past can be understood without myth, and sees pointers for this in the work of Weber and Sorel.
"Sand makes a convincing case against linear history, retrospectively invented continuities, anachronistic or ahistorical transpositions. He stresses the necessity of situating one's own point of view, contextualizing and historicizing events, bringing to light bifurcations, paths not taken, contradictions and possibilities. And above all, of never sticking to the views of the dominant and the victors." --La Marseillaise "Shlomo Sand asks ironically and seriously whether Clio's days are not numbered. In Twilight of History he retraces the broad lines of humanity's evolution and questions our relationship to antiquity and Christianity as foundations of Western civilization ... Sand recalls that the discipline owes its institutionalization to the establishment of nation-states, given the task of retracing their origins and fuelling their glory, and he asks how far it can survive these." --Le Magazine Litteraire "After Israel, it is Clio, the muse of history, who is the object of Sand's rigorous examination, with such painful questions as whether we have to accept the impossibility of a morally neutral history. Is history not basically a 'concealed theology, ' as Nietzsche saw it, designed to build and maintain the foundation myths of nations? At the end of an essay illuminated by personal touches, the pillars of historical self-evidence fall one after the other: Greek 'heritage, ' Eurocentrism, arbitrary periodization. Venturing outside the carapace of his specialization, Shlomo Sand sees far, and brings a fresh breeze to arid certainties." --Le Temps "The Israeli historian has a magisterial work behind him. No one has better shown how a national history is fabricated and constructed on the sands of an ideology. What Shlomo Sand now offers us generalizes this argument, and we can only salute his erudite presentation of the establishment of history as a 'science' in the service of national passions. His chapter titles, 'Undoing the Myth of Origins, ' 'Escape from Politics?, ' 'Probing the Truth of the Past' are so many stimulating injunctions." --Lire Sand does not just make the case against a certain historical narrative, he also rumples the historians, including such contemporary icons as the founders of the Annales school, Marc Bloch and Lucien Febvre, whom he reproaches of indifference in their studies to the great political affairs of their time, Nazism, Stalinism and Judeophobia. In this time of reform of history teaching and rehabilitation of great republican myths, Shlomo Sand's simple but indispensable message is to beware of ourselves." --Denis Sieffert, Politis "Eminently readable, almost entirely free of theoretical jargon, and ... of clear importance for both politics and education." - Beverley Southgate, Reviews in History
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