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PRIMACY OF THE HISTORICAL: ON A FEW SNIPPETS OF TEXT WITH A VIEW TO WITNESSING, SCHOLARSHIP AND POLITICAL EXPERIENCE

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Abstract:

The article conducts an analysis of everyday notions of witnessing as emerging from the marginal writings of a mid-twentieth century Belgian medievalist, Fran├žois Louis Ganshof (1895-1980). The aim of the analysis is threefold: to explore a specific set of cultural conditions shaping the understanding of witnessing; to demonstrate the primacy, in witnessing, of an intricate notion of historicity as moulded by scholarly practice; and to indicate that, and in what manner, witnessing and historicity informed a notion of political experience that appears foundational to Ganshof's understanding of, and attitude towards, matters political in general. The article also stipulates the legitimacy and the value, in a historical investigation of political thought, of focusing on minor figures, discursive patterns and events of seeming insignificance. It ultimately proposes that the small-scale cultural labour on the discursive formations centred on historicity may be deployed for rethinking our understanding of epochal concepts such as modernity.

Keywords: Belgium; Ganshof; Second World War; historicity; historiography; monarchy; political experience; testimony; witnessing

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: University of Zurich, UFSP Asien und Europa, Wiesenstr. 7-9, CH 8008, Zurich, Switzerland, Email: henning.trueper@access.uzh.ch

Publication date: January 1, 2011

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