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Revolutions and the Making of the Modern World

From Peter the Great to Karl Marx

James Cracraft

Edited By William Benton Whisenhunt

Professor James Cracraft is an established specialist on early modern Russian history, particularly the era of Peter the Great (1682-1725), tsar and first Russian emperor. This volume gathers some of the many key articles and reviews published by him over the last forty years and more in a wide variety of scholarly venues, some of which are not readily accessible. They constitute in sum important contributions not only to Russian history broadly understood, but also to the study of history itself. The collection will include a preface by the editor and an introduction by the author, where he will sum up his decades of historical work and point to new avenues of needed research, all the while emphasizing that "history" properly understood does not exist somewhere on its own but is the creation, however imperfect, of professional historians (as "chemistry", say, is properly understood as the work, however imperfect, of professional chemists).

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18 Faith in History


This essay suffers at once, it must be admitted, from the multiple ambiguities afflicting its title’s main terms. “History” normally signifies any one of a huge array of written representations of the human past, of course, but also the past itself: both that which historians write, and that which we write about. At the same time, “faith” denotes either a belief in something ineffable or intangible that simultaneously idealizes its object (like faith in the power of reason, faith in God) or a relationship of loyalty and trust, as when a contract is negotiated in “good faith” or a leader “keeps faith” with his followers lest they “lose faith” in him. Nor is my title’s use of the preposition “in” to connect the two terms, rather than the conjunction “and,” likely to improve matters much. So I should move swiftly to clarify the essay’s purpose.

It is not to sanction the kind of secular metaphysic that informed even professional history in the not so distant past. The distinguished American historian Charles A. Beard (1876–1948) once said that “in its widest and most general significance” history means “thought about past actuality,” which in turn is “instructed and delimited by history as record and knowledge,” the latter as “authenticated by criticism and ordered with the help of the scientific method.” It was a professionally correct definition, to be sure; Beard was addressing, as its president, the American Historical Association in 1933. Yet he went on to say ←297 | 298...

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