The Latest CatastropheHistory, the Present, the Contemporary

The Latest CatastropheHistory, the Present, the Contemporary

Henry Rousso

Print publication date: 2017

ISBN: 9780226165066

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


In this book Rousso sets two tasks for himself: (1) to provide a history of the problem of “contemporariness” in history writing; (2) to analyze how contemporary history came to be a sub-discipline and especially how it arose in response to catastrophes over the course of the 20th century. Above all, he is interested in how historians grapple with the problem of distance from an event even if they may have been participants. The book considers the current status of the discipline and provides an analysis of present-day societies in terms of the relations they maintain with the past, on the basis of the historiographical situation in France, Germany, and the English-speaking world. The history of the present time has come face to face with the tragedies of the 20th Century, especially World War I & II, and of the 21st. We must address history even when it reaches or exceeds the limit of the comprehensible and the acceptable. History no longer unfolds as traditions to be respected, legacies to be transmitted, knowledge to be elaborated, but rather as a constant “work” of mourning or memory. The new history of the present time is summoned to respond to the challenges of the return of the near past in a lethal form, as well as to seek atonement. Historians of the present time, sometimes against their will, have themselves become actors in a history still being made.