quotes on historiography

Sexual heterogeneities

Our epoch has initiated sexual heterogeneities.

Michel Foucault, The History of Sexuality Vol.1, (Vintage Books, 1990), 37

Oral History

…there’s more to history than presidents and generals, and there’s more to culture than the literary canon.

Alessandro Portelli, The Death of Luigi Trastulli, (SUNY Press, 1991), viii

Emotions, society, and culture

Emotion is certainly a psychological entity, but it is no less and perhaps more so a cultural and social one: through emotion we enact cultural definitions of personhood as they are expressed in concrete and immediate but always culturally and socially defined relationships.

Eva Illouz, Cold intimacies: the making of emotional capitalism, (Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2007), 3.

Sources of signification

…I learned that history implies extracting meaning, including political meaning, from both collective and individual experiences. History can be the interpretation of human change over time in a given society. But history, […] is also a critical and restrained attempt at disclosing the source of signification that made this past real, sometimes too real, to its contemporaries and to us, its interpeters.

Federico Finchelstein, Transatlantic Fascism: Ideology, Violence, and the Sacred in Argentina and Italy, 1919-1945, (Duke University Press, 2010), 3.

Societies and punishment

All societies experience crime, but punishment reflects the very nature of a polity.

Lynn Hunt, Inventing Human Rights, (W. W. Norton, 2008), 139.

The Great War

History, unlike a scientific experiment, does not repeat itself exactly, but it does offer lessons for those alert to them and sufficiently unbiased to avoid twisting them for political or personal gain.

John H. Morrow Jr., The Great War – An Imperial History, (Routledge, 2004), xii.

Family and Revolution

Little wonder that these reformers regarded the revolutionary family as both touchstone and taboo.


As in so many other arenas, the French Revolution left behind bitterly contested questions. But it had also created a dynamic repertoire of political practices, legal innovations, and potent ideologies of liberty, equality, and self-fashioning. The Revolution had made it impossible to remake state and citizenship without also debating and reshaping gender dynamics, the meaning of intimacy, and the rights of individual women and men.

Suzanne Desan, The Family on Trial in Revolutionary France, (University of California Press, 2004), 318.



Voltaire at Frederick the Great’s Sanssouci, by Pierre Charles Baquoy

“The sense of dialectic requires a critical perspective on the Enlightenment; the sense of responsibility requires admiration for it. To deny either of these terms is to risk sinking into superficial veneration or shallow hatred. Every age wishes to construct a new ideal. But, to be an insurgent, one must also be an heir. The Enlightenment is the inheritance once must accept in order to revolt against the present.”

Daniel Gordon, Postmodernism and the Enlightenment, (Routledge,  2001), 219-220.

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The definitive answer?

It may seem that the past is by definition over, but the past is always changing because historians and the purpose of history are changing too.
Every new age looks for an understanding of its time, and without history it would not have one.

Lynn Hunt, Writing History in the Global Era, (Norton, 2014), 11.

The truer history is…

“The truer history is, the more powerful it is.”

Anthony Grafton, Commerce with the Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1997), 18.

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