Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Philosophies of History is sponsored and supported by:

Leeds Humanities Research Institute
School of English, University of Leeds
Centre for the Philosophy of History, St. Mary's University Twickenham, London
School of Fine Art, History of Art, and Cultural Studies, University of Leeds
School of History, University of Leeds
The Oulu Centre for Theoretical and Philosophical Studies of History
School of History, University of Leicester


Welcome to the Philosophies of History!

Founded in mid-2012, by several medieval historians at the University of Leeds, Philosophies of History (PoH) is an international and interdisciplinary academic-grassroots project, with activities stretching from Chile to Palestine, Brazil to Finland and around the UK...and now in the US. PoH has two broad aims. The first is the revitalization of philosophy of history as an academic discipline and field of study. Within this remit, the project fosters frank discussions on the construction, performance and interpretation of H/history. The intention is to analyze critically the ways in which we deal with the 'before now' and help generate fresh discourses and debates about history and historiography, their relationship to other disciplines of enquiry and ultimately their place in social thinking and meaning. The other crucial purpose of PoH is to interrogate public and political uses, experiences and representations of the past via free forums of publics, students, scholars and local political and community leaders of all types. In various conflict zones we are very much 'on the ground' working to organize cross-community meetings - including between students of educational institutions that refuse to recognize each other for historical reasons - to discuss the real life 'impact' of historical perceptions. Elsewhere, we run 'regular' seminar series, workshops, lectures and small conferences.

We invite anyone with an academic interest in the philosophy of history, or a social interest in or consciousness about the uses of the past to get in touch, to participate in our events and to suggest others. All PoH events, everywhere, always and worldwide are free of charge.

Please feel free to contact us with any questions, comments or suggestions at:

General introduction to our way of thinking

In the opening seminars at Leeds in 2012, we exclusively covered the same topic, a testament to its importance to the foundational event of the project. In these meetings we interrogated the (admittedly anodyne) question of ‘what is history?’, along with its friend, the notion of the ‘philosophy of history’. This was a necessary moment of becoming. From it, we chose not to label our project and early seminars ‘theories of philosophy’ because doing so would put the seminars in danger of becoming one-dimensional, รก la Herbert Marcuse. Theories of history would provide us with the necessary critical apparatus to explore history as a cultural, intellectual and academic phenomenon, but would not provide a framework for interpreting history as a mode of thought, and a discipline, which philosophies of history we hope will allow us to do.

Through the phrase ‘philosophies of history’, we have paired together the two concepts as modifying nouns with history as the point of reference, or, the descriptor. This allows us to focus on history as the main target of enquiry, however, to do it justice we should also think to some initial extent about the supposed set of which it is a part (at the very least, grammatically). Thus, to spin our seminar’s question around, what is philosophy? This is of course just as complex a question as 'what is history?', not least because, we hope, one does not view the question as an essentialist one.  What is important for now, though we will see where the discussion takes us, is to consider the following: what is philosophy in relation to history, what is a philosophy of history, and how can there be multiple philosophies? Is history a philosophical enquiry?  The answer to such as question, we think, depends on one’s approach to writing history. Is the attempt being made to question perceived knowledge?  If so, is it being done simply for its own sake, or is it attempting to suggest alternative ‘answers’ or narratives about a past ‘neighbourhood’, or world? Would we agree with the great ‘anti-philosophers’, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Friedrich Nietzsche, Ludwig Wittgenstein and Jacques Lacan, that the latter methodology is not really philosophy at all?  What then can we say is a philosophy of history, and how does it help to interrogate the very concept of ‘history’?

After discussing the relationship of philosophy to history, we turn our energies directly at history and begin to ponder, what it is. The word ‘history’ is thrown around widely today (not that this is necessarily different from certain moments in the past, a connection we should explore). One of the favourite, and the most obvious and rightly-deserved, targets to attack for this hapless use of the term ‘history’ is the media, which keeps telling us that such and such moment or action is historical, or that people are constantly ‘making history’. What the <insert profanity here> does this mean? What is ‘making history’? In media discourse it would seem that all one needs to do to make history is act, but to act specifically in accordance with the media’s (status quo, capitalist) ideals of what should be remembered and noted as important moments (e.g. when the banlieue riots in Paris, or those in London, or the unreported uprisings in Mexico occurred, reporters were not telling us jubilantly that ‘we are watching history being made’). No historians are needed, it seems, to make history, or, the ‘historian’ is in fact the media, which defines the historical for the future. This is a frightening notion indeed since it would seem that we are establishing history as an uncritical, immediate response to pre-defined, non-radical events of the present…an idea Isidore of Seville in the 7th century would say is the ‘nature’ of history, but are we comfortable with this today as ‘history’?

Lest we not be so comfortable though within our academic walls, the media is not the only source that is feeding us ‘History’ as a Lacanian ‘objet petit a’, a specific object of desire that must drive our actions towards a singular (never achievable) goal, down a single 'end of history'-visioned, main-stream, 'sachi', way to reach the lofty of heights of ‘history’. Many philosophers and historians too have uncritically accepted, knowingly or not, such a socially dangerous philosophy of history and subsequent methodologies. Some of these writers are even considered the avant-garde of their respective fields, even as radicals.

Furthermore, historians continue to grapple with elementary concepts in philosophy, while leading philosophers put forth theories they claim to legitimate by using history, but which is in turn equally as elementary as the historians’ considerations of philosophy. We believe that these inter-disciplinary attempts are done ‘in good faith’ but that there exists such a gap between the two fields that merging one into the other often deflates the work at hand. A reason for this is the lack of understanding across disciplines of the methods, historiographies, debates, and rationale of the others' fields.

With all of these considerations in mind it is evident that now is an important time to critically interpret, re-evaluate and build novel, cross-faculty philosophies, theories and pedagogies of history, a response to shared intellectual pursuits.  We hope that Philosophies of History will be forge fruitful discussions between its participants, whether one’s aim is as a historian seeking to better understand their own work, or as a philosopher trying to place history scholarly, as a music theorist or literary critic endeavouring to explain your own present through historical terms and research non-reliant on old paradigms of determinist or categorical trajectories, or whether your concern is pedagogical, political, social or in some other way concerned about history into the future.