French historian speaks on revising history

by Alexander R. Edlich | 6/30/94 5:00am

French historian Francois Hartog said in a speech Tuesday night that historians can no longer revise history after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Hartog delivered his lecture, titled "Time and History: Memory sites as a symptom," to an audience of 60 people in the Rockefeller Center for Social Sciences.

Hartog, a professor at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en Sciences Sociales in Paris, kicked off the first Edouard Morot-Sir Institute of French Cultural Studies.

Using specific examples, Hartog traced the evolution of historiography and how the French have dealt with their collective memory of historical events.

Two examples Hartog mentioned were the storming of the Bastille in 1789 and German occupation of France during World War II.

"During the sixties, historians forgot the future and concentrated on 'today,'" he said during his one hour lecture. "It was strictly on the present. For them, there was no future."

But Hartog said historiography has changed recently.

"Our present is very anxious to project the future," he said. An example of this belief, he said, was French journalists talking about French President Francois Mitterand "as if he werealready gone."

In the 1980s historians' interests changed when they realized students "did not know the dates any more," Hartog said.

A strong re-emphasis on history took place in France throughout that decade, "for better understanding and for better making it understood," he said.

With the fall of the Berlin wall in November 1989, "the reign of the 'new historiography' ended," Hartog said.

He added that it is impossible for present-day historians to "reopen or reanalyze" the past. He said they are concentrating on "the nation and nationalism which has been brought to the forefront of the national consciousness."

Hartog cited recent books on Germany as illustrations of his thesis.

The chair of the Comparative Literature department and co-director of the institute Lawrence Kritzman said the institute and the speeches are part of the process of reinvigorating French language studies.

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