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What did Postmodernism begin to challenge?

It critiqued the idea that historical facts existed 'out there' to be discovered by historians using the empirical methods that had dominated the profession since the nineteenth-century. Instead, post-modernism threw up questions about the role of language and textuality in the construction of historical narrative and the reading of historical sources. This fundamentally challenged how historians work, and what 'history' even is.


What ideas emerged in the period of Enlightenment?

There was a growing discontent with the old ways of doing things and there emerged a belief in the power of human reason for good. Progress was now possible and achievable (perhaps inevitable?)


Why might some later thinkers view the Enlightenment project as constraining?

It sought the 'end of history' - it smoothed out difference, disruption, plurality, complexity


What did the Enlightenment do in terms of the way history was practiced?

It meant that historians took a more empirical approach e.g. Leopold von Ranke was not a fan of ideas, and thought of as the founder of 'scientific' history


Who can be thought of as the first 'structuralist' theorist and what did they do?

De Saussure - a linguist who was interested in how language corresponded or referred to reality. He formulated the theory of 'signs' known as semiotics.


Structuralism is very concerned with signs. What is the sign composed of?

-Signifier: usually a word
-Signified: the referent. What does the word claim to refer to? The thing 'out there' is the signified
The sign gains its true meaning from its position in relation to other signs - that is, its role in a structure made up of signs.


In which decades did structuralism become popular in France, and Britain, respectively?

1950s - France
1970s - Britain


What were the implications of structuralism?

There came the idea that signs had no innate meaning and that they had to be attributed from outside. Meanings are relational, deriving from the sign's role within a structure, especially how it is opposed to other signs. Furthermore, there was the idea that language is arbitrary, relational, constitutive - language is not a reflection or record of what we see; rather, it shapes it, so that how we see is what we see


What was post-structuralism and when did it emerge?

A development of structuralism- this sense of language as the constituent of the world. Emerged in the 1960s. To many poststructuralists, structuralists simply hadn't fully taken on board what structuralism was saying, believing it made for a world of utter uncertainty without fixed reference points


What is deconstructionism?

Think of it as applied post-structuralism. A method for reading texts which is derived from the new orthodoxies of post-structuralism. There came the idea that 'there is nothing beyond the text'. Elements of psychoanalysis were a significant influence as they tried to reveal the unconscious nature of texts by reading the text against itself.


What is postmodernity?

All of these turns added together, considered the umbrella term for all these approaches to knowledge. Language cannot be the precise record of reality that it was previously thought to be. Postmodernism merely refers to the moment in the mid-twentieth century, after all the destruction of the world wars, when people turned away from the certainties of modernity (themselves derived from the Enlightenment)


In what ways might postmodernism have had a positive effect on historical research?

The linguistic/cultural turn has encouraged historians to think about how cultural and social forces have had an influence in the past, how ideas are constructed, and how language has been a powerful tool e.g. in political history


What critiques may be made of the cultural turn?

Peter Mandler suggests that this may have gone too far in some instances - historians have been seduced by the notion that there is no reality, that all evidence is equally untrustworthy, and that our narratives need meet no external criteria of 'truthfulness'. There can be cases where evidence is misused and wilfully misrepresented, and awarded more weight than it deserves


Why did postmodernism only emerge in the 60s/70s?

Because immediately post-war people had different priorities. But the beliefs held are strongly influenced by the war e.g. inadequacy of language to describe such things like Auschwitz


What did Derrida mean when he refers to 'traces'?

Associations present in the sign that define its meaning. It is neither present nor absent, but identifiable in the concept by their trace. E.g. pig = animal, pink, big, dirty etc.


Why did Derrida argue that there can be no such thing as an absolute truth?

Meanings differ from reader to reader, as there are different understandings of language = subjective


What did Derrida argue that gives language meaning?

The network of other words that are associated with them. Also, meanings are ascribed to certain words because of what they are not - constructed in opposition to themselves


What is differance?

The systematic play of differences, meaning exists in the place between signs.


What did Rousseau believe speech had been corrupted by?

Writing- creating distance and unnatural links. Speech had the ability to vary meanings through tone, but when reading you are forced to read the widely understood definitions of language. However, Derrida argued that this actually revealed that speech is not whole and natural, as the substitution of writing for speech revealed a deficiency in speech


What is 'aporia'?

Derrida brought back this Greek word meaning 'puzzlement' as he wanted people to feel comfortable to be confused or have doubts- it is not embarrassing but a sign of maturity. There are many complexities of reality, and Derrida wanted to reveal these by deconstructing common privileged binaries e.g. reason over passion, sight over touch, men over women. But wanted to show that reality is not so simple- capitalism is neither wholly good or evil


How does power play a role in this debate?

Impact of power on knowledge - those in power get to decide which reality is wrong. Also comes the idea that all knowledge is constructed - by who?


What is meant by intertextuality?

Nothing is original- the use of certain phrases trigger associations. Borrowing words and you borrow the ideas with them. Because of this, both primary and secondary sources are as much a product of their time as each other.