History, Politics, and the American Past : Essays on Methodology book cover
1st Edition

History, Politics, and the American Past
Essays on Methodology

ISBN 9780367857660
Published March 11, 2020 by Routledge
166 Pages 8 B/W Illustrations

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Book Description

History, Politics, and the American Past assesses the connection between historiography and politics in America on the basis of an important methodological distinction between the past and the history written about it.

While necessarily interpreting the past, professional historians and those with a general interest alike remain tempted, consciously or not, to make American history serve their own political and moral views. There is a tendency to impose our present values on the past and sometimes go so far as to believe the past can be changed by present action. In this volume, Ari Helo analyzes examples of this, including metahistorical narratives, presidential speeches, and the occasionally vague rhetoric of the Confederate statue campaigns, before diagnosing the source of doing so and suggesting how we might avoid it. Taking America as its example, the book illuminates essential methodological issues related to history writing while deciphering the complicated relationship of history and politics.

The book will be of interest to scholars and students of American history, historiography, American studies, and cultural studies, providing a vivid account of how to make sense of American history.

Table of Contents

Introduction; 1. Breaking Away from Progressive History; 2. Bidding Farewell to Progressive Individualism; 3. Letting Go of Narrative History: The Linearity of Time in Historical Research; 4. Parting with Moralistic Historiography; 5. Doing Away With Politics in Political History; 6. Concluding Remarks: The Long Goodbye to the American Past; Select Bibliography; Index

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Ari Helo (PhD) is a Senior University Lecturer in North American Studies at the University of Helsinki, Finland. Helo's books and scholarly articles have been published in Britain, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Russia, and the United States, including Thomas Jefferson's Ethics and the Politics of Human Progress (2014).


"Ari Helo offers a bracingly fresh new perspective on the way we understand and write about our history. History can and should be revised so that we can better understand the past, always recognizing that the past itself cannot be changed: history must be distinguished from politics. Helo’s timely intervention will not bring an end to the wars over history and memory, but it will give us a much clearer sense of what’s at stake."

Peter Onuf, Professor Emeritus, University of Virginia

"... the author is intelligent, has a distinctive take on the relationship between history writing and the uses of history in contemporary politics, writes well and is always thought-provoking."

Trevor Burnard, Professor of History, University of Hull