Publications | Parutions 2012-2014

Forum: Closeness and Distance in the Age of Enlightenment

John Brewer and Silvia Sebastiani (ed.)
Modern Intellectual History- Vol vol. 11, n°3, 2014,  pp. 603-716 p.

The issues around the question of historical distance, though they have a long pedigree that goes back to Antiquity, intensified in the age of Enlightenment when, as Reinhart Kosellek has argued, eighteenth-century understandings of change as progress not only produced an accelerated sense of time, but a strong sense that history was not so much a question of identifying exemplary moments in the past, but rather a matter of charting and explaining historical change through continuous time.

The essays of this forum address the dilemmas posed by this linear, progressive view of the past, first fully elaborated in the Enlightenment and still very much alive today. They are all, in their different ways, explicit meditations on the work of one of the contributors, Mark Phillips, on historical distance. In this collective inquiry, Mark Phillips uncovers the process by which exemplary “history painting” was molded anew as a story of national progress and achievement. Miles Ogborn examines the tensions between the natural and civil histories of Jamaica and how they map onto a debate about savagery and civility that was racially inflected. John Brewer unravels the strategies of the philosophical travel writer who struggled to reconcile alterity with sympathetic understanding. Silvia Sebastiani analyses two different histories of the Americas, one in the Enlightened philosophical tradition, the other committed to the particularism of Creole and Jesuit antiquarianism. John Sachs concludes with a study in eighteenth-century time-scales, showing how scale, distance and interpretation were interconnected both textually and in graphic form.

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