WMU News

New book examines postmodernism and history

Jan. 15, 2004

KALAMAZOO--Writing history seems pretty straightforward. An event happens, it is interpreted, recorded and then left to historians to sort out the fine details.

It is this collective work of historians--the checking and rechecking of the past that gives us an idea of history. But for the postmodernists, it is not so simple a proposition, according to Dr. Ernst Breisach, WMU professor emeritus of history and author of the new book "On the Future of History: the Postmodernist Challenge and Its Aftermath."

"Postmodernists stipulate that historians can never use the actual past as a standard for historical accounts," says Breisach. "They believe that all we have is what people have said about the event, with one account being as good as the other. Fiction and history are pretty much the same to them."

Breisach's book is "the first comprehensive overview of postmodernism and its complex relationship to history," according to a review by the University of Chicago Press.

Breisach, who lived under Hitler during the 1930's, respects the postmodernist motive for seeing history this way, but as evidenced by his book, he does not necessarily agree with it.

"They see a parallel between absolute truth claims with regards to historical accounts, and the totalitarian ideologies with their own absolute truth claims that produced the human catastrophes of the 20th century," says Breisach. "But you cannot avoid carefully restrained truth claims for a history. History's record of the past is a necessary guide for a world that knows flux and continuity."

"On the Future of History: The Postmodernist Challenge and Its Aftermath," is 256 pages and is available through Amazon.com and the University of Chicago Press at <www.press.uchicago.edu> for $16 in paperback and $41 in hardcover.

Breisach taught in the WMU Department of History for 39 years, and served as department chairperson from 1967 to 1989. The author of six books, and numerous articles, he has been a recipient of fellowships from both the Fulbright Commission and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Breisach has been honored numerous times for his scholarship and teaching contributions. He was the recipient of WMU's Distinguished Faculty Scholar Award, which is the highest honor the University bestows on a faculty member, as well as an Academic Excellence Award, which is awarded to just two Michigan professors annually by the Michigan Association of Governing Boards.

Media contact: Matt Gerard, 269 387-8400, matthew.gerard@wmich.edu

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