Imagination and Revision

In C. M. van den Akker (ed.), The Routledge Companion to History and Theory. Routledge. pp. 215-232 (2021)

Authors
Jonas Ahlskog
Åbo Akademi University (PhD)
Giuseppina D'Oro
Keele University
Abstract
In this contribution we explore revisionists and anti-revisionists conceptions of the historical imagination. The focus will be on how these conceptions of the historical imagination determine how one ought to answer the question of whether or not it is in principle possible to know the past in its own terms rather than from the perspective of the present. The contrast that we are seeking to draw is that between a conception of the historical imagination which is revisionist in the sense that it is committed to the claim that knowledge of the past is in principle impossible, and one which is anti-revisionist in the sense that it regards knowledge of the past in its own terms to be in principle possible. Revisionism, as we understand it here, is not the contingent claim that in some cases (where, for example, new evidence which was previously unavailable comes to light) the historical understanding of the past may be revised; rather, it represents an a priori claim about the impossibility of knowing the past in its own terms in all cases, and not just in some. Likewise, anti-revisionism, as we understand it here, is the view that historical knowledge is in principle possible; it is not the claim that it is always achieved as a matter of fact. The debate between revisionist and anti-revisionist conceptions of the historical imagination is therefore a second-order debate about the nature of historical knowing, about whether it is possible, and if so, about what its conditions of possibility are. It is not a first order debate about whether or not such knowledge has been achieved in any given case.
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