Page count: 120 pages
Category: from Dutch
Frank Ankersmit (1945) studied both history and philosophy in Groningen. Since 1992 he has been professor of intellectual history and historical theory at the University of Groningen. Since 1986 he has been a member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of the Sciences (KNAW).
He is member of the editorial board of the journal History and Theory (which is the leading international journal in the field), of Rethinking History, of Clio, of Historiography East and West, The Journal of the interdisciplinary crossroads. In 2007 he founded the Journal of the Philosophy of History, of which he is the editor-in-chief. He is a member of the Wissenschaftliche Beirat of the Kulturwissenschaftliches Institut in Essen (Germany).
In 1990 De navel van de geschiedenis. Over interpretatie, representatie en historische realiteit (The navel of history. On interpretation, representation and historical reality) was published by the Historische Uitgeverij, followed by Ankersmit's inaugural lecture (1993), entitled De historische ervaring (The historical experience), in which, for the first time, he announces the end of theory, and his shift towards experience.
De sublieme historische ervaring (The sublime historical experience) was published in 2007 by the Historische Uitgeverij, and gives a thorough, and yet vivid and personal account of Ankersmit's philosophical shift towards the historical experience of the past.
In 2008, the assembled Dutch colleagues of Ankersmit praised his sublieme historische ervaring as the most original philosophical book of the year, and rewarded the author with the prestigious Dutch Socrates-Prize.
The Historical Experience
How can we know the past at all? In The Historical Experience, Ankersmit argues that historical representation and debate alone are not sufficient. The historian can only truly understand the past if he is open to the ‘historical experience' - a moment in which the historian has the authentic feeling of a direct and unmediated contact with the past, where the lines separating past and future dissolve. The Historical Experience is based on Ankersmit's inaugural lecture, which constitutes the starting point for his quest for the nature of the historical experience. It is a wonderful introduction to a new way of perceiving history. This controversial book caused an intense debate among historians and is still a challenging and thought-provoking work to read.
„A convincing plea for the rehabilitation of the historical experience as the alpha and omega of historiography"
Ger Groot - NRC Handelsblad
„Revolutionary philosophy of history by Ankersmit, who disregards theory of knowledge in favour of the historical experience"
Piet Gerbrandy - De groene Amsterdammer
In Sublime Historical Experience, philosopher of history Frank Ankersmit takes up where the famous Dutch historian Johan Huizinga left off. When he saw an exhibition of paintings by Flemish Primitives in 1902, Huizinga was so overwhelmed by a sense of direct contact with the past that it prompted him to think about what really connects us with earlier times. This ‘historical experience’ inspired his great study The Waning of the Middle Ages.
However, modern science and philosophy, since becoming dominated by epistemology, have placed little value on experience. In Sublime Historical Experience the erudite Ankersmit proposes new and controversial approaches to philosophy and the writing of history.
Ankersmit passionately defends the role of experience in philosophy, pointing out that it is missing even from the work of those thinkers, such as Gadamer and Rorty, who are most attuned to it. The world is without meaning if we are not touched by what the eighteenth century called ‘the sublime’, by that aspect of life for which no words are adequate.
History will remain remote if it is limited to an objective analysis of documents. In Ankersmit’s view, the historian can only see the past as truly real when he regards himself as part of it. In wonderful cameos of such writers as Huizinga, Benjamin and Burckhardt, he shows that their work was inspired by a direct experience of the past, something described by Huizinga, if a little hesitantly, as ‘ecstatic’.
Ankersmit’s argument for ‘romantic’ history writing leads him to criticise strictly scientifically oriented historiography. Instead he is drawn to a ‘poet of history writing’ like Michelet, who explicitly brought his own historical experience to bear in depicting the French Revolution.
This is the only approach that enables historians to tell us what the past actually is, and which can provoke a sense of recognition that allows us to experience history as part of us, however far removed it is from the way we are today. Ankersmit uses his own personal historical experiences to illustrate the resulting sense of loss, as in his moving description of a painting by Francesco Guardi, in which he can actually feel the deep ennui of the ancien regime . In Sublime Historical Experience, Ankersmit sets out across a landscape full of unknowns and taboos, taking his readers on an extraordinary intellectual adventure.