Thursday, January 16, 2014

Clio Among the Muses

Peter's Hoffer's latest book, Clio Among the Muses: Essays on History and the Humanitiescomes with hearty endorsements from Richard Beeman, Michael Zuckerman, Dan Richter, and Stanley Katz.  Here is a summary:

History helps us understand change, provides clues to our own identity, and hones our moral sense. But history is not a stand-alone discipline. Indeed, its own history is incomplete without recognition of its debt to its companions in the humane and social sciences. In Clio among the Muses, noted historiographer Peter Charles Hoffer relates the story of this remarkable collaboration. Hoffer traces history’s complicated partnership with its coordinate disciplines of religion, philosophy, the social sciences, literature, biography, policy studies, and law. As in ancient days, when Clio was preeminent among the other eight muses, so today, the author argues that history can and should claim pride of place in the study of past human action and thought.
Intimate and irreverent at times, Clio among the Muses synthesizes a remarkable array of information. Clear and concise in its review of the companionship between history and its coordinate disciplines, fair-minded in its assessment of the contributions of history to other disciplines and these disciplines' contributions to history, Clio among the Muses will capture the attention of everyone who cares about the study of history. For as the author demonstrates, the study of history is something unique, ennobling, and necessary. One can live without religion, philosophy and the rest. One cannot exist without history. Rigorously documented throughout, the book offers a unique perspective on the craft of history.

The book has also caught the attention of Scott McLemee at Inside Higher Ed.  Here is a taste of his review:

Hoffer’s strategy is to improve the public’s appreciation of history by introducing it to the elements of historiography. (That being the all-too-technical term for the history of what historians do, in all its methodological knottiness.) One way to do so would be through a comprehensive narrative, such as Harry Elmer Barnes offered in A History of Historical Writing (1937), a work of terrific erudition and no little tedium. Fortunately Hoffer took a different route.
Clio Among the Muses instead sketches the back-and-forth exchanges between history and other institutions and fields of study: religion, philosophy, law, literature, and public policy, among others. Historians explore the topics, and use the tools, created in these other domains. At the same time, historical research can exert pressure on, say, how a religious scripture is interpreted or a law is applied.
Clio’s dealings with her sisters are not always happy. One clear example is a passage Hoffer quotes from Charles Beard, addressing his colleagues at a meeting of the American Historical Association in 1933: “The philosopher, possessing little or no acquaintance with history, sometimes pretends to expound the inner secret of history, but the historian turns upon him and expounds the secret of the philosopher, as far as it may be expounded at all, by placing him in relation to the movement of ideas and interests in which he stands or floats, by giving to his scheme of thought its appropriate relativity.”