Panel 14 History, Politics, Myth, and Memory

Event Title

A Disappointed Man: Carl Becker and Pragmatism without Idealism

Presenter Information

Kevin HigashikuboFollow

Start Date

15-2-2015 3:30 PM

End Date

15-2-2015 4:50 PM

Panel

History, Politics, Myth, and Memory

Abstract

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/kevinhigashikubo/Desktop/BGSU%20Spring%202015/Abstracts/A%20Disappointed%20Man%20-%20Carl%20Becker.doc

In 1931, historian Carl L. Becker gave two major lectures. The first was a series of talks given at Yale entitled The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, which was concerned with reframing the thinkers of the Enlightenment as far less modern and considerably more medieval in their thinking than was generally accepted. The second was “Everyman His Own Historian,” given as the Presidential Address to the American Historical Association, in which Becker laid out a theory of relativistic history and argued that the role of history was essentially pragmatic. Though the two works may initially seem rather distinct, I argue that they were both reactions to Becker’s disillusionment following the First World War and the failure of the Progressive project. Through a close reading of The Heavenly City and the reactions to it, I argue that Becker was trying to devalue the Enlightenment, as its progressive rationality and utopian goals were misleading and useless to the modern world. Then I consider “Everyman His Own Historian,” in which Becker argued that history could not be grounded by a scientific methodology and was largely a matter of interpretation. I argue that Becker was not trying to expound a nihilistically relativistic version of history, but instead trying to maintain history as valuable by recasting its function as primarily pragmatic. I conclude by arguing that The Heavenly City and “Everyman His Own Historian” represented Becker trying to formulate a philosophy of history that was relevant to the modern world.

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Feb 15th, 3:30 PM Feb 15th, 4:50 PM

A Disappointed Man: Carl Becker and Pragmatism without Idealism

SourceURL:file://localhost/Users/kevinhigashikubo/Desktop/BGSU%20Spring%202015/Abstracts/A%20Disappointed%20Man%20-%20Carl%20Becker.doc

In 1931, historian Carl L. Becker gave two major lectures. The first was a series of talks given at Yale entitled The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth-Century Philosophers, which was concerned with reframing the thinkers of the Enlightenment as far less modern and considerably more medieval in their thinking than was generally accepted. The second was “Everyman His Own Historian,” given as the Presidential Address to the American Historical Association, in which Becker laid out a theory of relativistic history and argued that the role of history was essentially pragmatic. Though the two works may initially seem rather distinct, I argue that they were both reactions to Becker’s disillusionment following the First World War and the failure of the Progressive project. Through a close reading of The Heavenly City and the reactions to it, I argue that Becker was trying to devalue the Enlightenment, as its progressive rationality and utopian goals were misleading and useless to the modern world. Then I consider “Everyman His Own Historian,” in which Becker argued that history could not be grounded by a scientific methodology and was largely a matter of interpretation. I argue that Becker was not trying to expound a nihilistically relativistic version of history, but instead trying to maintain history as valuable by recasting its function as primarily pragmatic. I conclude by arguing that The Heavenly City and “Everyman His Own Historian” represented Becker trying to formulate a philosophy of history that was relevant to the modern world.