History writing without closure
Review essay on The Work of History: Constructivism and a Politics of the Past by Kalle Pihlainen.
History and Theory , Volume 59 - Issue 3 p. 490- 496
In The Work of History: Constructivism and a Politics of the Past, Kalle Pihlainen pays tribute to Hayden White’s work on narrative constructivism through a comprehensive and critical evaluation of his work. The book’s seven chapters are based on previously published and reworked essays, starting with Pihlainen’s 2013 essay on narrative truth and ending with his 2006 essay on the confines of the form. The Work of History is timely in light of some world political leaders’ apparent immunity to facts, their use of history, and the role of power, as Pihlainen also discusses the ethics and politics of historical constructivism. At the same time, the book is “a meta-critical enterprise,” as White states in his foreword (####) : it critically scrutinizes and explains White’s work and its reception, including the debates on the production of knowledge, the ontological status of historiography, the various representations of history, and the kinds of audiences historians envision. Although narrative constructivism seems a bit passé, Philainen wants to further elaborate this theoretical approach to disentangle and explain some fundamental misconceptions about it that still exist among historians. One misconception is that constructivism inherently neglects the ethical impulse and supposedly lacks the potential for political engagement. Pihlainen urges historians and theorists to find ways of becoming politically committed in their writings and to challenge their readers to do the same.