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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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19 History as Philosophy


This essay proposes that the professional practice of history results over time in the forging of a certain kind of personal philosophy. I emphasize at the outset that my focus is not on philosophy of history, whether substantive or critical, but on a somewhat surreptitious byproduct of historical work that most working historians rarely acknowledge, convinced as they seem to be that the practice of history is guided by nothing more than a distinctive methodology learned in graduate school. Nor have history’s various external critics evinced any awareness of the possibility that historians might take from their work as much or more of a philosophical (“ideological”) nature than they allegedly bring to it. But before proceeding, my use of the essay’s central terms, given the present climate of debate, should be clarified.

The “history” in question is the discipline of that name, more generally the profession as practiced with progressive refinements for the last century and a half or so in the English-speaking world. R. G. Collingwood called it “historians’ history,” or “a special kind of thinking concerned with a special kind of object,” namely, “the past” or, more exactly, “actions of human beings that have been done in the past.” I quote Collingwood up front because he was that rarest of birds, both a published historian (of Roman Britain) and a published philosopher of history: in short, somebody who thought long and hard about doing history and ←309 | 310→about its connections with philosophy. And in his...

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