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The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History


'This is exactly the kind of book to recommend warmly to any student wanting a general introduction to the discipline of history. It is highly ... Show synopsis

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Reviews of The Pursuit of History: Aims, Methods and New Directions in the Study of Modern History

Overall customer rating: 4.000
Isaac P

Summary of Pursuit of History, 7th ed.

by Isaac P on Sep 11, 2012

John Tosh's, "The Pursuit of History" is a good introduction for both advanced undergraduate students and graduate students wishing to gain a global view of history as a profession and the diverse methods used in the field. In this 5th edition, Tosh expands the present historiography and details the impact past works as they influence the thoughts and methods of today. Covering the historiography from the professionalization of the field in the 1880s through the Annales school of thought, Marxist theory and postmodernism, Tosh is able to touch upon the origins of each style and introduce the social histories of the 1960s and 1970s and the postcolonialism writing of the 1990s. As a historians history, Tosh contributes to a global view of the study of history as he asks if it is a science or a craft. The Pursuit of History is divided into eleven chapters. The first three chapters cover oral histories and the didactic approach for studying history "for its own sake." By introducing different methodologies in the interpretation of history and its purpose, Tosh is able to approach the topic of mapping the field in chapter three. Here he breaks the field into political, social, economic, religious, world, global, local, and microhistory. As a justification for all the diverse subfields he states, "[e]very work of history strike some kind of balance between the individual and society, between the material and the mental, and between the local and the global." (p. 84) These chapters shed light onto the function and rationale of the professional historian and the contributions the field offers. Chapters four through six describe the process in which information is attained. Sources are the focus as they led to the type of interpretation the historian uses to bring out their content. Tosh painstakingly covers the types of sources that exist, how they survived, and the reasons they were made and/or kept. As sources are the life of the work, two different approaches can be taken. The historian can let the sources lead their work or formulate questions that the sources grapple with. These are source-oriented or problem oriented approaches. Once the sources have been found and assessed the manner in how they are to be interpreted can follow three forms. The historian can write in a descriptive or narrative style that, as Tosh defines, re-created the past, or the sources can be analyzed to interpret the past. These chapters have been mainly descriptive. (p. 175) Once these themes are presented, the limits to the historicism of the field is described in chapters seven and eight. The ideas of language and its usage is questioned. The concepts of "deconstruction" to include the underlying meaning of what the originator meant or may have meant, subconsciously. The relationship of postmodernists with history is expanded as Tosh examines its strengths and limits. To rebuttal Postmodernist that say, "historicism is dead and should be abandoned as a serious intellectual endeavor," Tosh states, "historians point out not only that the weaknesses of historical enquiry have been grossly exaggerated but that a broadly historicist stance towards the pass is culturally indispensable." (p. 205) As theories go, Tosh concedes the Marxism is one of the best. (p. 223) He consistently returns to cite E.P. Thompson's The Making of the English Working Class. Chapter eight describes the influence Marxist interpretation has had and the contributions that it continues to make in history. This may be a presentation of his bias as Tosh's expertise is in African history were an "us-them" struggle can be applied easily. Class struggle and power are main themes in Marxist theory. Rene Genovese used it in his work Roll, Jordan Roll as the parallels can be made between feudalism and plantation economies and the relationship between those in power over those who are subjugated. Chapters nine through eleven wrap up the cultural and social histories that rose following the revisionists of the post World War II era. The 1960s and 1970s brought a "bottom-up" approach, moving away from political "elite" history and write the story of those who did not have a voice. Gender and woman's studies were brought to life as the historiography had not given them a voice to share their history but had been present in the influence of past events. These studies offered postcolonialism a foothold where subaltern studies first made an impact in the 1980s. (p. 292) Marxist "history from the bottom" helped develop postcolonialism as its, "main purpose... was to make up the silencing of the poor that had occurred throughout the colonial period" and hoped that, "[p]easants and workers would be brought into the light of history." (p.292-293) Tosh concludes with memory and oral histories and the means by which they are used and applied in national and local history as they contribute to identity of a region. Limits to memory are present but the contributions to the historiography of people throughout the world rests on these sources as not all has been written down and that which has is not always readily available or has been lost or destroyed. Isaac Pietrzak

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