MHT: Modern Critiques of Modern History

This post is part of an ongoing series reflecting on the appropriate approach to and method for historical theology.

HTThe Modernist perspective on history is not without its critics. Herbert Butterfield noted the importance of engaging the complexities of the past on their own terms and of not presuming the assumptions of the present where the underpinnings of the past.[17] Instead, history must problematize the perceptions of the present by recognizing the conditional nature of the past. The Annalist school was especially sensitive to the way in which the questions being asked and evidence available for reconstruction influences the shape of historical conversations.[18] In order to curb ignorance and inaccuracy in the study of the past, the Annalists advocated awareness of how history was conceived and approached by those studying it. Similarly, the Structuralist school drew upon linguistics in order to argue that all knowledge depends on language, discursive construction, and intra-linguistic difference.[19] Claude Levi-Strauss, to provide an example, indicated that anthropologically discovered discontinuities—not historical consciousness—provided the best access to human knowledge.[20] Eventually, such criticisms of Modernism tried to rend themselves from that perspective and establish a movement of their own.


[17] Herbert Butterfield, Whig Interpretation of History (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 1965), 19-24.

[18] Marc Bloch, The Historian’s Craft (New York: Vintage, 1964), 61-75.

[19] Elizabeth Clark, History, Theory, and Text: Historians and the Linguistic Turn (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004), 44-7.

[20] Ibid., 47-53.