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Durham e-Theses
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'How warped the mirrors': postmodernism and historiography

Olson, Ryan Scott (2002) 'How warped the mirrors': postmodernism and historiography. Masters thesis, Durham University.



Postmodernism, though it may be described in many ways, may be thought essentially to be captured by Lyotard's phrase, 'incredulity towards metanarratives'. The first chapter of my thesis attempts to define both 'postmodernism' and 'historiography', and then surveys historiographical discourse today. Because it is often ancient history that most frequently may be open to radically differing interpretations, I take in chapter two a 'generative' example, namely the speech compositions of Thucydides. This example I consider as 'generative' in the sense that it opens up questions, not only about the History of Thucydides itself and about how Thucydides is conceived in the ancient historiographical tradition, but also about what it means for an historian to disclose the 'truth' of an historical situation. My third chapter takes up the suggestion by Keith Jenkins that postmodern philosophy, particularly the conception of 'truth' and 'knowledge' proffered by Rorty, is a good way for history to acclimatise itself in the postmodern era. I survey Jenkins' proposals, and then discuss a work Jenkins largely ignores, i.e. Rorty's Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. I demonstrate not just the familiar point that Rorty attempts to overturn 'foundationalist epistemology', and proposes 'new vocabularies' that involve 'hermeneutics' which set up I discourse as 'conversation'. This overturning involves for Rorty an assertion of 'unarbitrability', i.e. that it is impossible to argue that one view is better or more true than another. Thus Jenkins wishes to enter a world of a plurality of interpretations. In chapter four, however, I draw upon the work of Charles Taylor who argues for the necessity of 'arbitrage' in human discourse, whilst still wishing to overturn epistemological foundationalism. I therefore wish to advocate in my fifth chapter a 'third way', drawing on Taylor's theory of interpretation that requires neither a correspondence theory of truth, nor unarbitrability. Throughout the chapter I demonstrate how my conclusions regarding Thucydidean speeches and my discussion of postmodern philosophy may serve as a way of thinking about the task of historians, and hot just ancient historians. I conclude with some theological reflections on the arguments offered.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Arts
Thesis Date:2002
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:01 Aug 2012 11:33

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