File spoon-archives/bourdieu.archive/bourdieu_1998/bourdieu.9804, message 18

Date: Tue, 7 Apr 1998 13:49:12 +0100
Subject: Re: Whiggish history

Just a terminological note to Tobin's post (quoting George's):

>Regarding "Whiggish history," however, you wrote:
>> As I understand it, Whiggish means "liberal" and broadly
>>"progressive," i.e. the opposite of conservative.
>As I understand the phrase (and I could be mistaken, it's always given me
>difficulty), Whiggish history is not simply progressive or liberal, but also
>claims that the outcome (i.e., their own political dominance) was the best
>possible and even inevitable.

The term "Whig (or Whiggish) history" has its origin in Herbert
Butterfield's book The Whig Interpretation of History (1931) which I
haven't read, but as far as I know the term was used by Butterfield as
meaning the history written by the historical "winners" (in this case the
Whigs over the Tories) who presumably wrote history in a teleological way,
with themselves as the telos. Later (with Kuhn?) the term has been widely
used in (Anglo-American) history of science where it designates the kind of
history which presents the history of science as the progress towards
scientific truth. As far as I understand it, this debate is a very
complicated one, although it has been greatly simplified by the two
antagonistic positions, on the one hand the historians of science primarily
trained as scientists, on the other the postmoderns primarily trained in
some sort of humanities disguised as social science.

Carsten Sestoft



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