Introduction: The Metaphor of Historical Distance

Jaap Den Hollander*, Herman Paul, Rik Peters

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalEditorialAcademicpeer-review

    13 Citations (Scopus)

    Abstract

    What does "historical distance" mean? Starting with Johan Huizinga, the famous Dutch historian who refused to lecture on contemporary history, this introductory article argues that "historical distance" is a metaphor used in a variety of intellectual contexts. Accordingly, the metaphor has ontological, epistemological, moral, aesthetic, as well as methodological connotations. This implies that historical distance cannot be reduced to a single "problem" or "concept." At the same time, this wide variety of meanings associated with distance helps explain why an easily recognizable tradition of scholarly reflection on historical distance does not exist. In a broad survey of nineteenth-and twentieth-century historical theory, this article nonetheless attempts to show that distance has been a major, if seldom explicitly articulated, theme in European and American philosophy of history. In doing so, it pays special attention to those few authors who in recent years have taken up the metaphor for critical study. Finally, the paper summarizes some of the main arguments put forward in the articles comprising this issue on historical distance.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1-10
    Number of pages10
    JournalHistory and Theory
    Volume50
    Issue number4
    DOIs
    Publication statusPublished - Dec-2011

    Keywords

    • historical distance
    • historical perspective
    • metaphor
    • historicism
    • hermeneutics
    • Johan Huizinga

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