Published 09 Jan 2010. Tags: books, history.
I think people in the past were very different to us in the meanings they gave to the world, and that any reading on to them of a constancy of human nature type, of whatever kind, is without foundation. I mean, which sort of human nature do you want to pick? I don’t think this need lead to scepticism about knowing “history” because, to repeat, when we study history we are not studying the past but what historians have constructed about the past. In that sense, whether or not people in the past had the same or different natures to us is not only undecidable but also not at issue. In that sense, the past doesn’t enter into it. Our real need is to establish the presuppositions that historians take to the past. It would therefore be more constructive (though again ultimately impossible) to try to get into the minds of historians rather than the minds of the people who lived in the past and who only emerge, strictly speaking, through the minds of historians anyway, a task this whole book is encouraging. Not so much “all history as the history of past people’s minds” then, but “all history as the history of historians’ minds.”
—Keith Jenkins, Re-thinking History