Jorn Rusen's Theory of Historiography between Modernism and Rhetoric of Inquiry



Jorn Rusen is the preeminent German practitioner of "histories," or theory of historiography. Unlike his closest American counterpart, Hayden White, Rusen places particular emphasis on the historical discipline. The emphasis is embodied in Rusen's notion of the "disciplinary matrix" of historiography, which embraces five "factors": the cognitive interest of human beings in having an orientation in time; theories or "leading views" concerning the experiences of the past; empirical research methods; forms of representation; and the function of offering orientation to society. Rusen's account of the disciplinary matrix will remind some readers of the "hermeneutic circle." But Rusen is far closer to Jtirgen Habermas than to Martin Heidegger or Hans-Georg Gadamer, for, like Habermas, he emphasizes the authoritative role of universal rational science.

The essay argues that Rusen's notion of the disciplinary matrix is an important contribution to the understanding of historiography. Combined with his parallel conception of differing "paradigms" of historiography, it helps us to make sense of the history of (German) historiography, and is useful for analyzing and commenting on present-day historiography. The essay also argues for a greater degree of pluralism than seems assumed in Rusen's view. It suggests that in an age of diversity the rhetorical conception of "topic" —which provides questions to be asked rather than answers— is of special use, and it reinterprets Rusen's disciplinary matrix in a topical direction. Rusen rightly suggests that histories has a unifying function. The essay suggests that, given social diversity, only such reflective theory can unite the varied body of historiography. This is one of the reasons why historiographical theory is important now.

In a series of books, beginning with Fur eine erneuerte Historik (For a Renewed Histories) and followed by the three-volume Grundzuge einer Historik (Fundamentals of a Histories), Jorn Rusen, Professor of General History at the University of Bielefeld, has sought to articulate a "histories," or theory of historiography.1 Although a number of Rusen's essays have appeared in English, because


1. Jorn Rusen, Fur eine erneuerte Historik: Studien zur Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft (Stuttgart, 1976) (reviewed by J. L. Herkless, History and Theory 17 [1978], 241-245); Historische Vernunft: Grundzuge einer Historik I, Die Grundlagen der Geschichtswissenschaft (Gottingen, 1983) (reviewed by Peter Munz, History and Theory 24 [1985], 92-100); Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit: Grundzuge einer Historik II, Die Prinzipien der historischen Forschung (Gottingen, 1986) (reviewed by F. R. Ankersmit, History and Theory 27 [1988], 81-94); Lebendige Geschichte: Grundzuge einer Historik III, Formen und Funktionen des historischen Wissens (Gottingen, 1989) (reviewed by Robert Anchor, History and Theory 30 [1991], 347-356). See also Zeit und Sinn: Strategien historischen Denkens (Frankfurt am Main, 1990), a collection of occasional essays of the years 1979-1988 in which Rusen's theoretical concerns are manifest.



of their diverse foci and often specialized character they do not afford much sense of his theoretical project generally.2 One suspects that even among German historians the general shape tends to disappear, in part because Rusen is such a prolific writer and editor, but more importantly because the historical profession tends to be quite sharply antitheoretical, or at least untheoretical. And yet theory, in the deep sense of a reflection on basic presuppositions (as a Grundlagenreflexion, in Rusen's terminology), is important for the discipline, especially in its current, fragmented state.

My main aim here is to give an account of Rusen's histories. I shall suggest something of the theory's background and rationale, situating it within the context of German historiography. At the core of Rusen's theory is his notion of historiography's "disciplinary matrix" (disziplinare Matrix), a term that he of course borrows from Thomas S. Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions? (Rusen's disciplinary matrix differs markedly from Kuhn's, however, for, as we shall see below, he uses the term to designate not only the authorized orientations and procedures of the discipline but also its external relations — its relations, that is, to the social community in general.) My secondary aim is to suggest a revision of Rusen's theory through greater emphasis on the notion, adapted from classical rhetoric, of the inventional role of topoi, or topics. The revision is intended to detach Rusen's histories from the context within which it was originally articulated, that of social democratic intellectual politics in the Federal Republic of Germany from the late 1960s until the recent past. My purpose is not to reject the theory's implicit politics, but rather to adapt the theory to a situation where a greater diversity of ends and identities is to be expected than was the case within the German historical profession in the 1970s and 1980s.

The notion of a histories (we could equally well call it a "historiology") is even more foreign to the historical profession in the English-speaking world than it is to the German branch of the profession. Yet, at least in the United States, one historian has come to be especially well known for his theoretical work, namely, Hayden White. In an essay concerned with conveying a sense of what


2.  Four of the essays appeared in History and Theory: Jorn Rusen, "Jacob Burckhardt: Political Standpoint and Historical Insight on the Border of Post-Modernism," History and Theory 24 (1985), 235-246; "The Didactics of History in West Germany: Towards a New Self-Awareness of Historical Studies," History and Theory 26 (1987), 275-286; "Historical Narration: Foundation, Types, Reason," History and Theory, Beiheft 26 (1987), 87-97; and "Rhetoric and Aesthetics of History: Leopold von Ranke," History and Theory 29 (1990), 190-204. I am aware of three other essays in English: Jorn Rusen, "Theory of History in the Development of West German Historical Studies: A Reconstruction and Outlook," German Studies Review 1 (1984), 11-25; "New Directions in Historical Studies," in Miedzy Historia a Theoria. Refleksje nad Problematyka dziejow i wiedzy historycznej', ed. Marian Drozdowski (Warsaw, 1988), 340-355; and "The Development of Narrative Competence in Historical Learning: An Ontogenetic Hypothesis Concerning Moral Consciousness," History and Memory 1 (Winter/Fall 1989), 35-59. Most of these essays, and a number of others, appear in Jorn Rusen, Studies in Metahistory, ed. Pieter Duvenage (Pretoria, 1993).

3.  See Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, [1962], 2nd rev. enl. ed. (Chicago, 1970), "Postscript-1969," 182-187.



Rusen's theory is in the first place, it would be inappropriate to offer a thorough comparison with the work of another theorist; but a cursory comparison will offer us a quick way of situating Rusen, through contrast with White.

Born in 1938, Rusen is ten years younger than White. But as theorists the two are more nearly contemporary. Although White published several theoretical essays earlier, the first of his theoretical pieces to acquire some notice was a pugnacious essay, "The Burden of History," published in 1966.4 In the same year, at the University of Cologne, Rusen defended his dissertation, on the nineteenth-century historian and theorist of historiography Johann Gustav Droysen. White and Rusen have continued to contribute to theory of historiography ever since. In 1969 Rusen published a revised version of his dissertation, Begriffene Geschichte: Genesis und Begrundung der Geschichtstheorie J. G. Droysens (History Grasped: The Genesis and Foundation of J. G. Droysen's Theory of History).5 His programmatic Fur eine erneuerte Historik appeared in 1976. There are also various edited or coedited collections, Grundzuge einer Historik (1983, 1986, 1989), Zeit und Sinn (1990), and many essays. White's work is of course much better known in America, both inside the profession and outside it: most importantly, his influential Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe appeared in 1973, and two essay collections, Tropics of Discourse and The Content of the Form, appeared in 1978 and 1987 respectively.6

But while Rusen and White both see reflective theory as important for historiography, and have addressed in their theorizing certain common issues (most notably, the forms of historical writing), their basic concerns are sharply different. An economical way of situating the two theorists is via their different intellectual provenances. In brief, Rusen finds his intellectual inspiration in Droysen. White, on the other hand, has found substantial inspiration for his historiographical thinking in Friedrich Nietzsche. (To be sure, the latter connection needs to be nuanced, for, unlike Nietzsche, White is an American democrat and a moralist. Still, by highlighting the points of contrast between White and Rusen, the connection will help us to see better where Rusen stands.)

Without discussing in detail Nietzsche's reflections on historiography, the important thing to know is that in the section on myth and history in The Birth of Tragedy (1872), and in the essay "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life" (1874) that expands on that section, Nietzsche offered as harsh a criticism of the ethos of professional historical scholarship as has ever been made. He claimed that professional historians and philologists were unimaginative myth-destroyers, whose own lack of nobility made them incapable of dis-


4. Hayden White, "The Burden of History," History and Theory 5 (1966), 111-134, reprinted in White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore, 1978), 27-50.

5. Jorn Rusen, Begriffene Geschichte: Genesis und Begrundung der Geschichtstheorie J.G. Droysens (Paderborn, 1969).

6. Hayden White, Metahistory: The Historical Imagination in Nineteenth-Century Europe (Baltimore, 1973); White, Tropics of Discourse: Essays in Cultural Criticism (Baltimore, 1978); White, The Content of the Form: Narrative Discourse and Historical Representation (Baltimore, 1987).



cerning nobility in the past.7 In "The Burden of History," White is entirely explicit about his acceptance of the Nietzschean diagnosis of professional historiography.8 White's conception of historiography is resolutely nonprofessional. He strongly resists the professional historian's claim to offer, through the autonomous practice of history, an authoritative picture of the past. Little wonder that guild historians reacted with hostility to White's initial foray into the theory of historiography and to the later, more extensive writings that followed from it.

Rusen, for his part, is unequivocal about the Droysenian provenance of his histories.9 As Professor of History at Jena and then at Berlin, Droysen (1 SOS-IS 84) offered a lecture course on histories a full seventeen times, the first time in 1857, the last in 1883.10 Thus, while Nietzsche was castigating the professional practice of historiography Droysen was delivering his theoretical lectures justifying that very practice. Droysen aimed at providing an account of the "encyclopedia and methodology" of history viewed as a unified and autonomous academic discipline. Rusen's aim is in many ways similar: he conceives of his histories as offering a "Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft," to cite the subtitle of Fur eine erneuerte Historik. When Rusen quotes Droysen's assertion that his aim is to offer "a systematic representation of the field and method of our science," he well conveys not only Droysen's aim but a large part of his own aim as well.11

In short, whereas White often seems to theorize in anarchic hostility to the discipline, to its compromises and its consensus, Rusen sees himself as theorizing on and for the discipline. In part (although not entirely), the difference seems situationally induced, for in the American context there has been little space within the discipline for reflective theorizing about it. Insofar as such theory has arisen, it has done so almost entirely outside the discipline —in philosophy and (more recently) in literary studies, as well as in the hybrid region between history, philosophy, and literary theory that History and Theory sometimes


7. Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy, sect. 23, in Nietzsche, "The Birth of Tragedy" and "The Case of Wagner," transl. W. Kaufman (New York, 1967), 135-139, and Friedrich Nietzsche, "On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life," especially sects. 5-7, in Nietzsche, Untimely Meditations, transl. R. J. Hollingdale, with an Introduction by J. P. Stern (Cambridge, Eng., 1983), 83-100.

8. White, "The Burden of History," 125, 134.

9. Rusen repeatedly notes the connection between his notion of a histories and Droysen's. See, for example, Fur eine erneuerte Historik 11 and 18, and Historische Vernunft (Grundzuge /), 22.

10. See Johann Gustav Droysen, Historik: Rekonstruktion der ersten vollstandigen Fassung der Vorlesungen (1858); Grundrifi der Historik in der ersten handschriftlichen (1857/1858) und in der letzten gedruckten Fassung (1882), ed. P. Leyh, 3 vols. (Stuttgart, 1977). (The promised vols. 2 and 3, which would contain textual apparatus, have not been published.) A translation by Elisha Benjamin Andrews of the final, 1882 edition of the published summary of the course, Grundrifi der Historik, appeared in English as Outline of the Principles of History (Boston, 1893); it is currently out of print. A version of the lectures themselves was first published only in 1937: Johann Gustav Droysen, Historik: Vorlesungen iiber Enzyklopadie und Methodologie der Gesch-ichte, ed. R. Htibner (Munich, 1937).

11. Historische Vernunft, 22, quoting Droysen, Historik, 3. Rusen emphasizes that histories, in his conception of it, "stands... in an inner relation to the practice of the historian" {Historische Vernunft, 11), not in opposition to it.



occupies. In Germany, on the other hand, reflective theory of historiography has had a long presence within the German discipline, in part because of the discipline's close proximity to philosophy. Thus Rusen is able to see himself as continuing, and renewing, Droysen's histories. Droysen, in turn, was able to attach himself to a tradition of reflection on historiography going back to the eighteenth century.12 Pointing to the existence in many German universities of courses devoted to histories, Rusen and his colleagues are able to argue that by the second half of the nineteenth century "theory was part of 'normal' scholarly practice" in the discipline.13 It is generally not so today even in Germany, as Rusen has noted; indeed, his major academic concern has been the revival of histories in a discipline now largely indifferent or even hostile to it.14 Still, it does have a position within the German discipline rather than outside it in philosophy, literary studies, or "cultural criticism." Rusen's position influences the character of his theorizing.

But what is involved in Rusen's professionally-oriented theory of historiography? How does it connect with the context of German historiography and politics from the late 1960s onward, within which it was articulated? Most importantly, what tools and insights might we derive from it in the changed context of the 1990s, given the concerns that now arise out of American society (and not only American society) as compared to West German society before the collapse of the German Democratic Republic?

Rusen's work, articulated over the last quarter century, involves four distinguishable yet connected projects. First, some of his work can be identified as what in the American context is known as intellectual history: his book on Droysen most clearly fits this mold. Second, and closely overlapping with the first category, in the Droysen book and in many essays Rusen contributes to the history of (German) historiography.15 Third, some of Rusen's work is concerned primarily with commenting on the present situation and problems of (German) historiography: one notable concentration is in Zeit und Sinn. Finally, Rusen


12. On the long-standing tradition of histories in German universities, see Horst Walter Blanke, Dirk Fleischer, and Jorn Rusen, "Theory of History in Historical Lectures: The German Tradition of Historik, 1750-1900," History and Theory 23 (1984), 331-356 (also, in more detail, Blanke, Fleischer, and Rusen, "Historik als akademische Praxis: Eine Dokumentation der geschichtstheore-tischen Vorlesungen an deutschsprachigen Universitaten von 1750 bis 1900," Dilthey- Jatirbuch fur Philosophie und Geschichte 1 [1983], 182-255). Georg Iggers emphasizes the relation of history to German idealist philosophy in Iggers, The German Conception of History: The National Tradition of Historical Thought from Herder to the Present, [1968] rev. ed. (Middletown, Conn., 1983), 3-4 and passim.

13. Blanke, Fleischer, and Rusen, "Theory of History in Historical Lectures," 350.

14. Rusen, Fur eine erneuerte Historik, 17; see also Blanke, Fleischer, and Rusen, "Theory of History," 332.

15. See especially Jorn Rusen, Konfigurationen des Historismus: Studien zur deutschen Wis-senschaftskultur (Frankfurt am Main, 1993), which brings together and revises much previously published work. Note also the massive study by a Rusen student and collaborator, Horst Walter Blanke, Historiographiegeschichte als Historik [History of Historical Studies as Histories] (Stuttgart, 1991), which fits clearly into the Rusenian history of historiography program.



offers a general theory of historiography— that is, a histories. This project, too, is articulated in many of his writings, but its most important concentration is in Grundzuge einer Historik.

Rusen's histories comes out of a particular conjuncture in German historiography. As Georg Iggers has shown, in the nineteenth century there emerged a specifically German conception of history, closely connected to the German state system. This tradition presupposed the existence and validity of a semi-autocratic society guided by a small political elite. Although the social and political basis for this form of historiography largely collapsed in 1945, in West Germany historians continued for another fifteen years to write the same sort of history and to deny that the enormity of the Third Reich was anything other than an unfortunate aberration from the mainstream of German historical development.16

Only in the early 1960s did the situation begin to change. The initial episode in the struggle against the older historiography was the "Fischer controversy" of 1961 and after. Fritz Fischer's revisionist account of the origins of World War I, Der Griff nach der Weltmacht (1961), did not diverge methodologically from traditional "historicist" historiography: it remained a work of narrative history focused on political events, with no appeals to explicit theory. But it challenged the nationalist political commitments of that historiography and breached, at least to some degree, its unquestioned dominance.17 In consequence, the Fischer controversy made it easier for younger Germans to think that a historiography of sharply different cast from traditional political narrative could and should be introduced into the German profession. When, in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the German university system considerably expanded, some of these scholars were able to obtain secure academic positions.

There thus emerged a new trend in German historiography. Such historians as Hans-Ulrich Wehler (b. 1931) and Jurgen Kocka (b. 1941) began to advocate and write a history that self-consciously diverged from the method of historicist history. Their ideal was a "historical social science" that would apply to history theories articulated by social scientists.18 In addition to its methodological dimension historical social science had a political dimension, as did historicist historiography. But whereas, after the founding of the German Empire in 1871, historicist historiography served to justify the existing order, historical social science was explicitly critical of that order and was concerned to show, among other things, where, how, and why German history had gone wrong.19 Critical


16. Iggers, The German Conception of History, 252-262, 269-270.

17. An abridged version of Fischer's book appears in English as Germany's Aims in the First World War (New York, 1967). On the Fischer controversy and its sequelae, see Georg Iggers, New Directions in European Historiography, 90-95. For a collection in English that focuses, however, on substantive rather than on methodological matters, see The Origins of the First World War: Great Power Rivalry and German War Aims, ed. H. W. Koch (New York, 1972).

18. For an important manifesto in this direction, see Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Geschichte alsHistor-ische Sozialwissenschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1973).

19. The classic work along this line is Hans-Ulrich Wehler, The German Empire, 1871-1918, transl. Kim Traynor (Leamington Spa, Eng., 1985).



historical social science was able to obtain a significant foothold in the German historical establishment in part because of the improved fortunes of the Social Democratic Party, which in 1969 formed the federal government. By the 1970s the University of Bielefeld held a concentration of these critically-oriented historians, and the new orientation in German historiography has sometimes been referred to as the "Bielefeld school."20

Rusen's project of a histories emerges out of the reorientation in German historiography of the late 1960s and 1970s (accordingly, it is significant that Rusen holds a chair at Bielefeld; previously, from 1974 to 1989, he was professor at the nearby Ruhr University of Bochum). The reorientation provides the common ground on which come together his history of historiography, his commentary on contemporary historiography, and his reflective theory (histories properly so called). Indeed, even his decision as far back as the middle 1960s to write an intellectual historical study of Droysen makes sense in the light of the emergence of historical social science, although it is hard to believe that Rusen knew this when he first embarked on the study. For by choosing to write on the foremost theorist of "the German conception of history," he was able to do two things. First, by situating Droysen within the political context out of which he came, he was able to show that, far from being only an apologist of the existing order, Droysen was deeply concerned with the progressive, emancipatory political movements of his own time, thus suggesting the legitimacy of a critical and emancipatory historiography for our time. Second, he was able to find in Droysen a model of self-reflection in historiography that, mutatis mutandis, is applicable to historiography's future; in short, he was able to find in Droysen's histories the exemplar for his own project of historiographical self-reflection.21

As I noted at the beginning, Rusen borrows from Kuhn the terminology of the "disciplinary matrix," which is central to his histories. He also borrows


20. Useful accounts of the transformation in German historiography in the 1960s and 1970s are offered by Hans-Ulrich Wehler, "Historiography in Germany Today," in Observations on "The Spiritual Situation of the Age": Contemporary German Perspectives, ed. J. Habermas, transl. with an Introduction by Andrew Buchwalter [1979] (Cambridge, Mass., 1984), 221-259, at 232ff.; Georg Iggers, New Directions in European Historiography, [1975], rev. ed. (Middletown, Conn., 1984), chapter III, "Beyond 'Historicism' — Some Developments in West German Historiography since the Fischer Controversy," 80-122; Georg Iggers, "Introduction," in The Social History of Politics: Critical Perspectives in West German Historical Writing since 1945, ed. G. Iggers (Leamington Spa, Eng., 1985), 1-48; and Roger Fletcher, "Introduction" to Fritz Fischer, From Kaiserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History (London, 1986), 1-32. Geoff Eley situates the story within the wider context provided by the development in the late 1970s and 1980s of "history of everyday life" in his "Labor History, Social History, Alltagsgeschichte: Experience, Culture, and the Politics of the Everyday—A New Direction for German Social History?" Journal of Modern History 61 (1989), 297-343. Rusen discusses the evolution of German historiography from 1945 through to the early 1980s in "Theory of History in the Development of West German Historical Studies" (note 2, above), 14-25.

21. See Jorn Rusen, "Johann Gustav Droysen," in Deutsche Historiker, ed. H.-U. Wehler (Gottingen, 1971), II, 7-23, especially 11, 22.



from Kuhn the terminology of the "paradigm," which is central to his conception both of the history of German historiography and of its situation in the 1960s and 1970s. There is a close connection between Rusen's history of historiography, his commentary on current historiography, and his theory of historiography. The three projects are tied together at the theoretical level by a juxtaposition of "paradigm" and "disciplinary matrix." They are tied together empirically by the particular interpretation of the past and present of German historiography and its contexts that Rusen offers.

Ironies abound in the articulation and reception of Kuhn's brilliant and contradictory book.22 The irony most relevant in the present context is that Kuhn utterly denied that the account of science offered in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions had any applicability to social science, holding instead that its applicability was to natural science alone.23 Yet The Structure of Scientific Revolutions was quickly taken up by social scientists, who adapted the work to their own purposes. Our concern here is with its use by Rusen and by other proponents and practitioners of historical social science in Germany. Since Rusen's use of Kuhn is somewhat different from the roughly contemporaneous use of Kuhn in American social science, it seems important at least to point out the difference. In brief, American social scientists focused on the "structure" in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions: they saw the paradigm notion as underwriting the authority of disciplinary communities.24 Rusen and other Germans associated with the new historiography focused on the "revolution" in Kuhn's book: their emphasis was more on paradigm change, and they used Kuhn as support for the legitimacy of moving from an old paradigm to a new one.25

The emphasis on paradigm change is manifested at many points in Rusen's work. In his commentary on current historiography, a crucially important concern is to highlight the need for and possibility of transformation. Thus in the initial "programmatic" essay in Fur eine erneuerte Historik he highlights a "fourfold problematizing of the traditional discipline of history," occasioned


22. For one discussion, see Steve Fuller, "Being There with Thomas Kuhn: A Parable for Postmodern Times," History and Theory 31 (1992), 241-275.

23. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 164-165.

24. For an important statement of this view, see David Hollinger, "T. S. Kuhn's Theory of Science and Its Implications for History," in Hollinger, In the American Province: Studies in the History and Historiography of Ideas (Bloomington, Ind., 1985), 105-129, especially 116-119 (originally published in American Historical Review 78 [1973], 370-393). As Johannes Fabian noted, from a hostile viewpoint, the use of Kuhn in [Anglo-American] social science "anoints the fetish of professionalisi ** [Johannes Fabian, "Language, History and Anthropology," Philosophy of the Social Sciences 1 [1971], 19-47, at 19). For a general discussion, see Allan Megill, "Four Senses of Objectivity," in "Rethinking Objectivity I," ed. A. Megill, Annals of Scholarship 8 (1991), nos. 3-4, 301-320, at 305-307.

25. See, for example, the brief discussion of Kuhn in Hans-Ulrich Wehler, Krisenherde des Kaiserreichs, 1871-1918: Studien zur deutschen Sozial-und Wirtschaftsgeschichte (Gottingen, 1970), 163. The language of "paradigm" also appears in Iggers's 1975 discussion of recent historiography, no doubt picked up in part from discussion with German colleagues: see Iggers, New Directions, 6-8, 25-26, 31.



by changes in the pre- and extra-scientific conditions of the discipline, by the growing claims of social science, by recent theory of science, and by the existence of the Marxist tradition.26 He refers in the subsequent essay of Fur eine emeuerte Historik to a "Strukturwandel" (structural transformation) in the historical discipline: the Wandel is, in essence, the hoped-for change from traditional, "historicist" historiography to "historical social science."27

The same emphasis on transformation is to be found in Rusen's conception of the history of German historiography since the Enlightenment. Thus his 1984 essay, "Von der Aufklarung zum Historismus: Idealtypische Perspektiven eines Strukturwandels" [From Enlightenment to Historicism: Ideal-Typical Perspectives on a Structural Transformation], closely parallels those other essays in which he discusses "paradigm change" in the present.28 While Rusen himself has not cultivated at length the history of historiography, H. W. Blanke has. Blanke's 809-page Historiographiegeschichte als Historik is essentially an attempt to define the character and boundaries of the historicist mode of historiography. Here the notion of historiographical paradigms finds its detailed application. In the Rusenian perspective, the paradigm notion is deployed in a diachronic way. The paradigms of Enlightenment historiography, historicism, and historical social science are "ideal types" designating three successive modes of historiography.

My concern here is with Rusen's contribution to theory of historiography, not with his contribution to the history of German historiography or his commentary on present-day German historiography. But the different areas of concern are nonetheless connected in ways that help us to understand the shape of the theory. I asserted at the beginning that Rusen's central theoretical contribution is his notion of the "disciplinary matrix" of historiography. Yet, as we have just seen, Rusen also uses the terminology of "paradigm." The presence of both "paradigm" and "disciplinary matrix" in Rusen raises a puzzle, since, as is well known, Kuhn introduced the notion of the disciplinary matrix in the second edition of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions as a replacement for the much disputed notion of paradigm in the first edition.29


26. Rusen, "Fur eine erneuerte Historik: Voruberlegungen zur Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft," in Fur eine erneuerte Historik, 20-30. See also the earlier version of this essay in Denken tiberGeschichte, ed. F. Engel-Janosi, G. Klingenstein, andH. Lutz, WienerBeitrdgezur Geschichte derNeuzeit (Munich, 1974), I, 227-252, where Rusen likewise discusses the current "problematiza-tion" of the discipline (239) and introduces for the first time the paradigm notion (252).

27. Rusen, "Der Strukturwandel der Geschichtswissenschaft und die Aufgabe der Historik" [The Structural Transformation of Historical Science and the Task of Histories], in Fur eine erneuerte Historik, 45-54. See also the 1986 essay "Grundlagenreflexion und Paradigmenwechsel in der westdeutschen Geschichtswissenschaft" [Reflection on Foundations and Paradigm Change in West German Historiography], in Zeit und Sinn, 50-76.

28. Rusen, "Von der Aufklarung zum Historismus: Idealtypische Perspektiven eines Strukturwandels," in Von der Aufklarung zum Historismus: Zum Strukturwandel des historischen Denkens, ed. H. W. Blanke and J. Rusen (Paderborn, 1984), 15-57.

29. More precisely, Kuhn embraced within one aspect of his notion of the disciplinary matrix one aspect of what he earlier designated by the term "paradigm." A Kuhnian natural scientific disciplinary matrix has four components: symbolic generalizations (such as f = ma), models and



We must of course remember that Rusen borrows terminology from Kuhn much more than he does definitions (still, his appeal to Kuhn is appropriate, since, like Kuhn, he is at a deep level concerned with the question of the rationality of [social] science). Conceptually, the interesting thing about Rusen's notion of the disciplinary matrix is that it provides a way of responding to a number of questions brought to mind by his "paradigmatically" conceived history of historiography and by the commentary on present historiography connected with that history. First, in response to the description of the past in terms of a small number of paradigms, there arises the question of whether in each case differences are being obscured in the attempt to fit phenomena to paradigms. Second, whenever one attempts to conceptualize the past in terms of a succession of paradigms, there arises the explanation-seeking question, namely, why did one paradigm give way to another? Third, when one turns to the present a normative question arises, namely, why should one paradigm give way to another (in this case, why should "historicism" give way to "historical social science"?). Finally, the question arises why, if there is a succession of paradigms each giving way to the next, any of them at all should be taken seriously.30

Rusen's notion of the disciplinary matrix of historiography offers a conceptual basis for responding to the four questions. But before we can see how this is so, we need to see what content Rusen attributes to "disciplinary matrix." According to Rusen, the "disciplinary matrix of the science of history" consists of a "dynamic connection" among five "factors" or "principles" of historical thinking.31 They are:

(1) the factor of "cognitive interest": Because the intentions of human beings always go beyond their present situations, and because results often diverge from intentions, human beings have a need for temporal orientation. Historical consciousness emerges out of this need; so, too, does historical science.

(2) the "theory" factor, or "leading views" [leitende Hinsichten] concerning the experiences of the past: "Theory" is a loose term in German historiographical discussion generally and in Rusen in particular.32 In his broadest definition of


metaphors, values, and exemplars of scientific practice. The term "paradigm," Kuhn states, "would be entirely appropriate" for the fourth element (Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 186-187).

30. I generate the questions out of a reflection on the descriptive, explanatory, and justificatory aspects of historiography. Iggers raises the first, description-oriented question in a review essay on Von der Aufklarung zum Historismus, ed. Blanke and Rusen, in History and Theory 26 (1987), 114-121, at 121.

31. Rusen describes the disciplinary matrix at various places in his corpus. See especially Zeit und Sinn, 51-55 and Historische Vernunft (Grundzuge 7), 24-32. For an account in English, see Rusen, "Theory of History in the Development of West German Historical Studies," 12-13. Rusen's first discussion of the disciplinary matrix of the science of history appears in "Der Strukturwandel der Geschichtswissenschaft und die Aufgabe der Historik," in Fur eine erneuerte Historik, 46-48; his account there is somewhat different from his later accounts, for he omits forms of historical representation and does not distinguish between "interests" and "functions."

32. As Ankersmit points out in his review essay on Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit (Grundzuge II) (note 1, above), 88-89.



the "theory" factor, Rusen has in mind the conceptions that historians have concerning the historical character of human action generally. But he recognizes that theory enters into historiography at other levels as well —for example, through the application to history of explanatory theories articulated by social scientists.33

(3) methods of empirical research

(4) forms of historical representation

(5) the functions of orienting existence: Having arisen from a human existential need, historiography then contributes back to life-practice, constituting identities and offering guidance. Ideally, it should serve to facilitate human interaction generally.

The intellectual utility of such matrices resides, as I shall argue below, much more in their application than in their schematic presentation. Since my main aim here is to explicate Rusen's theory in general, the disciplinary matrix cannot be applied to specific cases here. Still, we can gain some sense of how it allows one to resolve the problems noted above.


33. In an essay originally published in 1979, "Wie kann man Geschichte verntinftig schreiben? Uber das Verhaltnis von Narrativitat und Theoriegebrauch in der Geschichtswissenschaft," Rusen identifies six types of historical theory; see Rusen, Zeit und Sinn, 106-134, at 125-129. Theory is also addressed in Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit, chapter 1, "Systematic — Strukturen und Funktionen historischer Theorien" [Systematics — Structures and Functions of Historical Theories], 19-86.



First, on the level of description, the disciplinary matrix allows the historian of historiography to respond to the objection that the paradigm notion, because it does not take account of differences within a given historiographical paradigm, is descriptively crude. For the matrix allows one to conceptualize historiography within the same paradigm as varying considerably with respect to interests, theories, methods, forms of representation, and functions, without such variations necessarily resulting in a paradigm shift. Of course, the question of whether in a particular case one is justified in speaking of a paradigm shift can only be answered by study of the details of that case.

Second, on the level of explanation, the matrix offers an answer to the question, why does one paradigm give way to another? The matrix implies that a shift from one paradigm to another is primarily the result of a change in the world of Lebenspraxis that generates new cognitive interests and offers new possibilities of orientation. A change in the world ofLebenspraxis'is a necessary, although not a sufficient, condition of paradigm shift.

Third, the notion of the disciplinary matrix offers an answer to the normative question, why should one historiographical paradigm give way to another? The answer, clearly, is because the social order has changed. Thus a historicism that was (perhaps) adequate to German social and political life in 1850, and served emancipatory interests at that time, was not adequate to the Germany of 1960. In Fur eine erneuerte Historik Rusen makes the point that histories is concerned, finally, with the present situation.34 Rusen's renewed histories is clearly inspired by the model of Droysenian histories. Its "renewed" character has to do with the claimed impossibility, in the face of the economic, social, and political realities of present-day life, of relying any more on the "commonly held ethical principles" (sittliche Gemeinsamkeiten) to which Droysen, deeply influenced by the German idealist tradition, appealed.35 Given a society that has undergone a modernization process, involving an economic dynamic of increased productivity, a political dynamic of democratization, and a social dynamic of increasing equality,36 one needs, the argument goes, a historiographical paradigm adequate to that reality.

Finally, the notion of the disciplinary matrix offers an answer to the broadest and most difficult question of histories, namely, why should historiography be taken seriously at all? After all, the succession of historiographical paradigms and interpretations could be taken as arbitrary, as mere emanations of the Lebenswelt: "And we are here as on a darkling plain . . . Where ignorant armies clash by night." But Rusen recoils from such an answer. Time and again, in one form or another, he asks the question, "How can one write history rationally?" His basic answer is that one can write history rationally by pursuing it as a universalizing, theory-oriented enterprise. The argument is not that historiography ought to articulate its results in the form of universal theories, but


34. Rusen, Fur eine erneuerte Historik, AA, 183-184, and passim.

35. Droysen, Historik, 212, 288, 437; Droysen, Outline, 37.

36. Rusen, Zeit und Sinn, 69.



rather that in various ways history depends on and connects with universals. Historiography has a set of more or less clearly identifiable methodological rules and practices. When properly done, it seeks to articulate a knowledge that is theoretically guided. It seeks consensus among its practitioners. Through the articulation of its research in appropriate forms of representation, it seeks to serve a general function of existential orientation, responding to the cognitive interests of human beings in their social lives. And, because it is theoretically guided, it is able to stand apart from, and adopt a critical stance toward, the vague and ideologically-tinted knowledge that circulates in the Lebenswelt. Indeed, because it is guided by theory, historical narrative is not just mimetic but also constructive, taking as its object not just what is given but what is intelligible.37

The question here is not whether Rusen's vision of historiography as a science ultimately stands up, but rather what its significance is —both for Rusen and for us here now, whoever this "us" may be. Particularly in its graphic representation, the disciplinary matrix will remind some readers of the notion of the hermeneutic circle, articulated by William Dilthey, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, and other writers in the hermeneutic tradition.38 But as a progressive German writing in the wake of the Holocaust, Rusen cannot accept the hermeneutic circle unmodified, at least not as an account of scientific and scholarly investigation. Thus, contrary to the hermeneuticists, he draws a sharp boundary between discipline and "life-world." In his view, research-oriented historiography does arise from the life-world's orientational needs and from expectations in the life-world that identity (national and otherwise) will be supported. But he also holds that research-oriented historiography is not just a response to such needs and expectations; rather, as he writes in Zeit und Sinn, it "produces a theoretical surplus beyond the need for identity of acting subjects." As he emphatically puts it: "My thesis is that this theoretical surplus must be seen as the distinctive rational achievement of research-oriented historical narrative." With its theoretical (universal) aspect, historiography "transcends the particularity of the 'commonsensicaF orientation of action within the life-world."39

Whether the sharp line between Fachwissenschaft and Lebenspraxis is justified or not, one can see why it is there: for it is clearly a response to the realities of the Third Reich, to a historiography that did not adequately confront those realities, and to political tendencies in the present that have tried to minimize the enormities of modern German history. The impact of that history on Rusen's


37. Rusen, "Wie kann man Geschichte vernunftig schreiben?" in Zeit und Sinn, especially 114-124 and 130-134.

38. For a brief and helpful account, see Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia, 1983), 131-139.

39. Rusen, Zeit und Sinn, 119-120.



thinking is clear.40 Indeed, returning to his conception of the past and present of German historiography, we can see him as trying, in his advocacy of the paradigm of historical social science, to restore the specifically critical dimension that was important in the Enlightenment paradigm, but that was muted and then silenced in the historicist paradigm. In line with this critical spirit, Rusen has devoted a great deal of attention to the project of historical didactics, aimed at improving citizens' historical consciousness.41

Ruisen's critical position may well remind some readers of the work of a much better known German intellectual, the sociologist and philosopher Jurgen Habermas (b. 1929). The parallels between Ruisen's position and that of Habermas are often striking. For example, when Ruisen draws his line between Fachwissenschaft and Lebenspraxis, he follows a thematization offered in Ha-bermas's classic study Knowledge and Human Interests, where the central problem is how rational knowledge gets constituted out of the world of praxis.42 Similarly, Rusen's 1988 essay, "Historische Aufklarung im Angesicht der Post-Moderne: Geschichte im Zeitalter der 'neuen Untibersichtlichkeit'" [Historical Enlightenment in the Face of the Postmodern: History in the Age of the 'New Obscurity'"], alludes to, without ever citing, Habermas's 1985 Streitschrift, Die neue Unubersichtlichkeit, which argued in favor of the project of "modernity" or "Enlightenment" and against "postmodernism."43 Similarly, in a 1989 article, "The Development of Narrative Competence," Rusen identifies "four essential forms of historical consciousness, reflecting four stages of development by learning," following, in this progressivist story, Habermas's use of Lawrence Kohlberg's theory of moral development.44

My claim, let it be noted, is not that Rusen was deeply influenced by Habermas. The claim is rather that Rusen, along with such other German historians as Wehler and Kocka, occupied a political position (social democratic, deeply marked by "the German catastrophe") that led them to respond in similar ways to the problem of the intellectual's and academic's role in the social order. Habermas articulated on a philosophical plane arguments that the historians also articulated, or at least presupposed. Thus, in spite of disciplinary divisions


40. See, for example, his reservations with regard to Jacob Burckhardt's "post-modernism," which he views in the light of "the historical experience which Europe and especially Germany has had with the political consequences of anti-modern forms of thought," in Rusen, "Jacob Burck-hardt" (note 2, above), 246.

41. For a summary discussion, see Lebendige Geschichte (Grundziige III), 77-135.

42. Jurgen Habermas, Knowledge and Human Interests, transl. J. J. Shapiro [1968] (Boston, 1971).

43. Rusen, "Historische Aufklarung___," in Zeit und Sinn, 231-251; Jurgen Habermas, Die

neue Unubersichtlichkeit (Kleine politische Schriften V) (Frankfurt am Main, 1985). Parts of Die neue Unubersichtlichkeit have appeared in English in The New Conservatism: Cultural Criticism and the Historians'Debate, ed. and transl. S. W. Nicholsen, introduction by R. Wolin (Cambridge, Mass., 1989).

44. Rusen, "The Development of Narrative Competence in Historical Learning" (note 2, above), 37. See Jurgen Habermas, Communication and the Evolution of Society, transl. T. McCarthy (Boston, 1979), chapter 2, "Moral Development and Ego Identity," 69-94. For Kohlberg himself, the best point of entry is Lawrence Kohlberg, Essays on Moral Development (San Francisco, 1981).



 (for historiography is not philosophy), there has long been an affinity between Habermas and the progressive historians. From the late 1970s onward, in the face of the so-called Tendenzwende (turn to the right) in German political life, the affinity became quite explicit. Wehler and other historians contributed to Habermas's 1979 collection seeking to evaluate the present situation and to counter the rise of the right, Stichworte zur "Geistigen Situation der Zeit" [Observations on "The Spiritual Situation of the Age"] .45 Significantly, although not a historian, Habermas was the catalyzing figure in the "Historians5 Debate" of 1986-1987 concerning the place of the Holocaust in German history.46

As part of his similar commitment to an "Enlightenment" position, Rusen articulates a version of the idea that there ultimately exists a single history. The idea of a single history—the idea of a "grand narrative," to appropriate Jean-Frangois Lyotard's now famous term —is deeply imbedded in the Western historiographical tradition, in the shape of a preccupation with "universal history" that goes back to the sixteenth century and beyond. The concern has appeared in a number of different forms in the tradition of modern Western historiography. It is present in Droysen's Historik, manifested in Droysen's concern with the problem of converting "histories" into "History"; one also finds it in Leopold von Ranke and in other participants in the historicist tradition.47 In Rusen, it appears in the guise of his concern with discovering "historical universals" in terms of which the life of human beings in time is to be understood. These universals (concepts like progress, decline, individuality, process, and structure) enter into what Rusen, in Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit, calls "historical anthropology." Rusen's historical anthropology is focused on the concept of humanity, which is the historical universal that embraces all the others.48 As F. R. Ankersmit has pointed out, the term "/ra/whistorical anthropology" might have been more appropriate, since Rusen stresses that these historical concepts are to be applicable to every conceivable historical period.49 In an essay published in 1990, "Der Teil des Ganzen: Uber historischen Kateg-


45. Note 20, above.

46. For an account of the Historikerstreit and Habermas's important role in it, see Charles S. Maier, The Unmasterable Past: History, Holocaust, and German National Identity (Cambridge, Mass., 1988), especially chapter 2, "Habermas among the Historians," 34-65. Note also Die Zukunft der Aufklarung, ed. J. Rusen, E. Lammert, and P. Glotz (Frankfurt am Main, 1988), where a number of authors write explicitly in the wake of Habermas's Die neue Unubersichtlichkeit, and Jurgen Kocka, "Geschichte und Aufklarung," in Kocka, Geschichte und Aufklarung: Aufsatze (Frankfurt am Main, 1989), 140-159.

47. Droysen, Historik, 441 (see also 253-254); Outline, 44: "Even the narrow, the very narrowest of human relations, strivings, activities, etc., have a process, a history, and are for the persons involved, historical. So family histories, local histories, special histories. But over all these and such histories is History." For Ranke's concern with universal history (which occupies a somewhat different register than Droysen's), see, among many possible references, Leopold von Ranke, "The Role of the Particular and the General in the Study of Universal History (A Manuscript of the 1860s)," in Ranke, The Theory and Practice of History, ed. Georg G. Iggers and Konrad von Moltke, with new translations by Wilma A. Iggers and Konrad von Moltke (New York, 1983), 57-59.

48. Rusen, Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit, 56-65.

49. Ankersmit, Review of Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit (note 1, above), 91.



orien" [The Part of the Whole: Concerning Historical Categories], Rusen reflects on the matter again, contending that "one of the tasks of historical science [is] to thematize the whole of history."50

In a certain sense such a thematization seems indispensable to history conceived of as a scientific enterprise, since science as we understand it claims universal validity. And yet with regard to the notion of a historical whole, one is caught on the horns of a dilemma. On the one side, unless one assumes some basic identity at the level of historical agents and sufferers, the historical whole can never actually be told (except at the end of time), since there is always the possibility of divergence from what we understand as human nature. On the other side, if we posit a human nature whose fundamental modifications are known now, we will have then articulated a substratum protected from the vicissitudes of historical time, and we will at the same time have deprived historiography of the possibility of generating knowledge that is simultaneously new, true, and important. Pragmatically, what is told will always be some version of an assumed historical whole. Rusen himself points out that the proposed anthropology is a regulative Idea in the Kantian sense; and so, obviously, is the historical whole.51 One is thus left with a paradox, namely, that one attaches oneself to the Idea of a single history, but that the single history is never actually articulated as history; instead, it remains behind the history, as a justifying theory. In Rusen, the assumed "grand narrative" is essentially a Weberian story of modernization and secularization, a movement toward what Ernst Troeltsch once referred to as the "kirchenfreie moderne Welt."52

Building on Rusen, I propose to suggest here a way of thinking about historiography that avoids the opposition between, on the one hand, a "modernist" or "Enlightenment" version of grand narrative that looks to (in Jiirgen Kocka's words) a single "historische Zusammenhangserkenntis" (knowledge of historical interrelation), and, on the other hand, a "postmodern" view that would dissolve history into "miniatures and insular modes of representation."53 It seems clear that no conception of science can abandon a "methodical striving toward inter-subjectively valid knowledge (truth)," to quote Kocka again.54 The question is, to what extent does this also require a striving toward a single history?

My point of entry to the revision of Rusen's disciplinary matrix is the notion of topic, which Rusen, and Droysen before him, both evoke.55 Topic is a classical notion, part of ancient dialectic and rhetoric. Obviously, my aim here is not


50. See Jorn Rusen, "Der Teil des Ganzen: iiber historische Kategorien," in Teil und Ganzes, ed. K. Acham and W. Schulze, [Theorie der Geschichte, Beitrage zur Histohk, vol. 6] (Munich, 1990), 299-322, at 299.

51. Rusen, Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit, 59; see also the entire section, entitled "Der Zugriff aufs Ganze: zur Theorie 'der' Geschichte" [Access to the Whole: Toward Theory 'of History], 47-64.

52. Ernst Troeltsch, quoted by Rusen, Begriffene Geschichte, 144 n. 24.

53. Kocka, "Geschichte und Aufklarung," 156.

54. Ibid., 157.

55.  See Droysen, Historik, 425, 445ff.; Rusen, Lebendige Geschichte (Grundzuge III), 57.



to offer a reconstruction of classical notions of topic, for that task is properly the concern of historians of rhetoric and dialectics, and its details are not especially relevant to the theoretical concern here.56 For our purposes, topic is best understood as offering collections of subject headings that we can hold in our minds and activate in particular rhetorical situations when we find them suited. Topic in the classical sense involves the listing of considerations that might possibly arise in discussion of any particular matter. Further, the Greek term topos and its Latin eqivalent, locus, are often translated into English as "line of argument." The translation underlines the fact that, most notably in the adversarial situations common in the judicial use of rhetoric, topic suggests arguments that the advocate might find advantageous to employ.

There are, of course, different classical presentations of topic. Aristotle's accounts, in his Rhetoric and especially in Topics, are of fundamental importance.57 But while Aristotle's dialectical topics do have a continuing intellectual relevance, topic as described by Cicero and Quintilian in their rhetorical treatises is more immediately applicable to the work of historians. An important point is that Cicero and Quintilian both emphasize the interrogative character of the topics. For example, Cicero in his De Inventione, in the context of a consideration of judicial rhetoric, proposes that when the advocate examines two competing narratives—that is, his own narrative (narratio) and that of his opponent, he will be better able to invent arguments about them if he has stored in his mind topics with which to address the material. The topics come out as questions—such as "why, with what intention, and with what hope of success each thing was done; why it was done in this way rather than in that; why by this man rather than by that; why with no helper or why with this one…," and so on. Nothing is determined in advance; if a question fits, it can be worked with; if not, not.58


56. The best entry to the history of topics is perhaps via the writings and translations of Eleonore Stump. See Boethius, De Topicis Differentiis, transl., with notes and essays on the text, by E. Stump (Ithaca, N.Y., 1978), especially "Introduction," 16-26, and the essays that Stump appends to her translation, 159ff. See also Boethius, In Ciceronis Topica, transl., with notes and an introduction, by E. Stump (Ithaca, N. Y. 1988). A good general history of rhetoric, within which topic finds a considerable place, is Thomas M. Conley, Rhetoric in the European Tradition (New York, 1990).

57. Aristotle, Rhetoric, in Aristotle, "Rhetoric" and "Poetics," transl. W. R. Roberts and I. Bywater, respectively, with an introduction by E. P. J. Corbett (New York, 1954), 1395b 20-1400 b 35; Aristotle, Topics, in Aristotle, A New Aristotle Reader, ed. J. L. Ackrill (Oxford, 1987), 60-77.

58. Cicero, De Inventione, in "De Inventione, ""De Optimo Genere oratorum," "Topica, "transl. H. M. Hubbell (Cambridge, Mass., 1949), II. xiv. 45. The best introduction to topic is Quintilian's chapter on argument: Quintilian, Institutio Oratoria, transl. H. E. Butler (Cambridge, Mass., 1920-1922), V. x. 20-125 (vol. 2, 213-271 of this edition). A word to rhetorical cognoscenti: I intentionally absorb into my discussion of topic the ancient conception of "status" or "basis" as well. "Status" questions (often taken to be "An sitl Quid sitl Quale sit!" [Is it? What is it? What character does it have?]) seem to be of similar character but of more general formulation than "topic" questions. On status theory, Lucia Caboli Montefusco's La dottrina degli 'status' nella retorica greca e romana (Hildesheim, 1986) is the best survey. For a parallel in historiography to the status questions, see the discussion of "What was the case? Why was it the case? What grounds do we have for believing so?" in Allan Megill, "Recounting the Past: 'Description,' Explanation, and Narrative in Historiography," American Historical Review 94 (1989), 627-653.



The payoff for the rhetorically trained speaker is clear. By holding in mind sets of questions that can be posed when particular cases come up, the rhetorician has a device for quickly inventing arguments for and against. But topic need not be limited to the world of the advocate. For topics —understood, here, as sets of questions ready to be activated where it seems appropriate to do so — are an enrichment of the understanding. They enable us to see the world more fully, and to impart some sense of order —indeed, various senses of order — to what would otherwise remain buzzing confusion. They are the elements of a mind that is well-stocked, in an active sense of "stocked." They stand between, on the one hand, a consciousness that seeks to understand the world in terms of universal laws, abstracting from particular cases, and, on the other, a consciousness so caught up in the charm of particulars as to be unable to gain any intellectual, let alone critical, purchase on them.

I wish to suggest here a conjunction between historiography and topic in its judicial or (more generally) adversarial use. In classical antiquity the conjunction occurred only in a highly limited way, for classical historians and rhetoricians saw historiography as epistemologically unproblematic — as lux veritatis, in Cicero's well-known phrase.59 While Roman historians did employ topics, the topics in question (for example, lists of virtues) came from the demonstrative genre of rhetoric, which was concerned with praising or blaming, rather than from the judicial genre; they were thus not contributions to an argument against an adversary. Admittedly, as Jacqueline de Romilly has pointed out, the speeches that Thucydides included in his History have a rhetorical argumentative structure.60 But classical rhetoricians did not see historiography itself as an argumentative project (as was, for example, a speech in a law court, or the political speeches summarized or reconstructed in Thucydides' History), because historiography had not yet developed into an enterprise involving the systematic confrontation of competing narratives — which it became, with ever greater insistence, in the modern period.61

Since the classical rhetoricians saw history as embodying the light of truth (any work that did not was in their view simply not history), they could hardly see it as standing in need of rhetorical argument, for in their view rhetorical argument was required only in instances where one possessed, not the light of truth, but only plausibilities. Accordingly, when the classical rhetoricians turned to historiography they focused on historians' literary styles, not on argumentative strategies.62 Nor, despite Droysen's use of the term "topic," did a conjunc-


59. Cicero, De Oratore, transl. E. W. Sutton and H. Rackham, 2 vols. (Cambridge, Mass., 1942), II. ix. 36.

60. Jacqueline de Romilly, Histoire et raison chez Thucydides (Paris, 1956), "Les Discours antithetiques," 180-239.

61. In John Tinkler's words, among "modern 'accurate' historians ... historiography has tended to shift from the demonstrative genre to the judicial" (Tinkler, "Bacon and History," Cambridge Companion to Francis Bacon, ed. Markku Peltonen (Cambridge University Press, forthcoming).

62. See, for example, Quintilian, Institutio Oratorio, IX. iv. 16-18 (Vol. 3, 514-517), X. i. 33, 73-75, and 101 (Vol. 4, 20-21, 42-43, 58-59), and X. ii. 17 (Vol. 4, 82-85). For a useful survey of classical rhetoricians' views on historiography, see Eckhard Kessler, "Das rhetorische Modell



tion of history and topic in its adversarial use occur in Droysen's Historik, for, far from seeing topic as a device for the invention of arguments, Droysen used the term to designate "apodeixis" or representation (Darstellung, Darlegung).63 In short, he assumed that topic is a stylistic conception, aligning himself with the general tendency, going back to the second half of the sixteenth century, to reduce rhetoric to elocution Only in the last generation, in Paul Veyne's Comment on ecrit Vhistoire and in a paper by Nancy Struever, "Topics in History," have historiography and topic in an argumentatively inventional sense been brought together.65 But Veyne's and Struever's suggestions for relating topic and historiography have for the most part not yet been taken up.

In an age of diversity, a unification of historiography on a substantive level cannot be attained, for different identities will find different histories important. Nor can one find unification on the more abstract level of method, for the pursuit of different histories, some of which will involve hybrid interaction with other fields and concerns, may well require deployment of different, and to some extent contradictory, methods.66 Rather, assuming social diversity within the practice of social science (which, as Kuhn rightly points out, has direct connections to larger social praxis), disciplinary consensus would seem to have some chance of existing only on the level of a reflective theory of historiography—on the level, that is, of "histories" in Rusen's sense. Rusen himself sees histories as having a unifying function, helping us to see the "forest" as well as the "trees."67 This is a necessary function, especially at the present moment. The historical discipline is widely—and I think rightly—held to be in a state of fragmentation.68 Fragmentation as such is not the problem, for fragmentation —


der Historiographies in Formen der Geschichtsschreibung, ed. R. Koselleck, H. Lutz, and J. Rusen (Theorie der Geschichte, Beitrage zur Historik, vol. 4) (Munich, 1982), 37-85.

63. See Droysen, Historik, 217, 405, 425, 445. This edition contains three distinct versions of the Historik, dating from 1857, 1857 or 1858, and 1882. Droysen uses the term "topic" only in the 1882 version among the three printed here. (The presence of "topic" in the 1882 Grundrifi der Historik is obscured in Elisha Benjamin Andrews's English translation, where the unfamiliar term "Topik" is rendered as "The Doctrine of Systematic Presentation" [Droysen, Outline, 49]).

64. On this reduction, see G. Mazzacurati, La Crisi della Retorica Umanistica net Cinquecento (Naples, 1961).

65. Paul Veyne, Writing History: Essay on Epistemology, transl. Mina Moore-Rinvolucri [1971] (Middletown, Conn., 1984), chapter X, "Lengthening the Questionnaire," 213-235, especially 218-224; Nancy S. Struever, "Topics in History," History and Theory, Beiheft 19 {Metahistory: Six Critiques) (1980), 66-79. Since the fact will be at least vaguely familiar to some readers, I should note that in ancient tradition topic also served as a device of memory; this is the form of topic highlighted in Frances Yates, The Art of Memory (London, 1966) and Jonathan Spence, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci (New York, 1984).

66. On hybridization, see Mattei Dogan and Robert Pahre, Creative Marginality: Innovation at the Intersections of Social Sciences (Boulder, Colo., 1990) — although the notion could be carried much further than Dogan and Pahre do.

67. Rusen, Historische Vernunft, 21, 32, 36; "Theory of History in the Development of West German Historical Studies," 13.

68. See Peter Novick, That Noble Dream: The "Objectivity Question"and the American Historical Profession (New York, 1988), especially 415-629; Allan Megill, "Fragmentation and the Future of Historiography," American Historical Review 96 (1991), 693-698.



also known as "specialization" — is essential to the advance of research, and the fragments produced by that research may well enter into productive, hybrid interactions with other fields and with practical concerns. The problem, rather, is narrowness, and theory of historiography — especially if practiced as a rhetoric of inquiry carried out in ways both interrogative and analytical — can help practitioners to see beyond their specialties, opening their minds to broader issues and improving their work in the process.

As Struever has pointed out, the rhetorical discipline of topic is rooted in a civil discourse, beginning as it does in "reputable opinion."69 Since topic is rooted in opinion, not in claimed certainty, and since its medium is the give and take of argument, it is peculiarly open to pluralism.70 Part of its pluralism is its propensity for the interrogative mode.71 On the level of theory, Rusen's most important contribution is the notion of the disciplinary matrix: thus I have emphasized it, and have put less emphasis on other aspects of his work. Shifting the disciplinary matrix to the interrogative mode yields not "principles" or "factors" but rather a typology of good questions to ask when one is attempting to come to grips with the multifarious projects of historiography. (Note that Rusen is in principle open to such a pluralism: he always speaks of a histories, thus suggesting that more than one histories is possible.)

One might also wish to make the matrix easier to keep in mind by simplifying it, perhaps in the following way:

History (conception of, in general)

Empirical research methods

Life-world (connection to)

Presentation (forms of)

Figure 2 The Disciplinary Matrix of Historiography (Revised)11


69. Struever, "Topics in History," 70-71, 72-73, and passim. The reference is to the beginning of Aristotle's Topics, where Aristotle states that "our treatise proposes to find a line of inquiry whereby we shall be able to reason from reputable opinion about any subject presented to us" {Topics, 100a, in The New Aristotle Reader, 60).

70. Conversely, one might suggest, anti-pluralism is peculiarly resistant to topic. Referring to Aristotle's Topics, G. W. F. Hegel saw "topic" as being concerned with enumerating "the different points of view from which a thing may be considered" (G. W. F. Hegel, Lectures on the History of Philosophy, transl. E. S. Haldane and Frances H. Simson, 3 vols. [New York, 1974], II, 217-218). Hegel's overall objection to the philosophy of Aristotle was that it was not sufficiently systematic: instead of being "developed in its parts from the Notion," the parts "are merely ranged side by side" (11,118). Hegel's objection is of a piece with his conviction that there is a single, authoritative worldview. From such a perspective, topic might well be seen as nonessential — a matter of (inadequate) modes of representation.

71. Cf. Michel Meyer, From Logic to Rhetoric (Amsterdam, 1986), especially chapter 6, "Dialectic and Questioning," 99-114.

72. By integrating Rusen's categories of "interests" and "functions" into the single heading of "life-world" (since "interests" arise from the life-world and "functions" represent a contribution back to it), the revision perhaps underplays Rusen's immense concern with historical didactics



My schema does not embody a substantive theory of historiography. It is only a reminder of what sorts of metahistorical questions we can and ought to ask when we confront works of history and the institutions that produce such works. The schema offers, in short, the basis for a topic of historiography, with such questions as the following: How is this historian, in writing this work, influenced by his or her own society and by his or her place within that society? What social agenda does the work implicitly or explicitly attach itself to? What overall vision of history informs the work? What type or types of method does the historian deploy? What forms of representation? One could also ask questions about the relations among the four categories — for example, how does a work's conception of History connect the historian's life-world with the methods deployed in the work, and with its forms of presentation?

The questions are calculated to help us discover arguments about historiography—showing us (as Quintilian says that topic does) "the secret places where arguments reside."73 In the language of rhetoric, the matrix offers a strategy for the "invention" of arguments, which can then be methodically tested. Out of the four slots an infinite number of questions can be developed by division and subdivision. In considering forms of presentation, for example, one could well be prompted by a knowledge of the major branches of poetics to ask such questions as the following: How is the text arranged (a question deriving from narrative theory)? How is the author manifested in the text (theory of enunciation)? How are the text's assertions rendered persuasive (rhetoric narrowly construed)? Finally, how is the text made readable (stylistics)?74

A topical list can be extended or retracted as the specific case demands. It can also be simply set aside when it does not prove illuminating. Strictly speaking, a topic should not be seen as either true or false, for, qua list, it makes neither theoretical nor empirical claims. Rather, it is "abductive," in Charles Peirce's sense, articulating things that may possibly be true.75 Thus the question "Is this


(discussed most sustainedly in Lebendige Geschichte, 76-120). Without denying the importance of historical didactics, one might say that this aspect of Rusen's theoretical project is far more tied to particular national contexts than are "leading views," "methods," "forms of representation," and even "interests." Consequently, didactics seems harder to grasp at the broad theoretical level that is in play here, and more appropriately grasped in connection with specific institutions (for example, schools), media (for example, television), communities, and events.

73.  Quintilian, Institutio Oratorio, V. x. 20 (II, 213).

74. The four branches of poetics are suggested (and their application to historiography exemplified) in Philippe Carrard, Poetics of the New History: French Historical Discourse from Braudel to Chartier (Baltimore, 1992).

75. On the Peircean sense of "abduction," see Charles Peirce, Collected Papers, ed. Arthur W. Burks (Cambridge, Mass., 1985), VII, chapter 3, "The Logic of Drawing History from Ancient Documents," especially "Abduction, Induction, and Deduction," 121-125, and "Abduction," 136-144. For a discussion by a historian, see Edward Muir, "Introduction: Observing Trifles," in Micro-history and the Lost Peoples of Europe, ed. Edward Muir and Guido Ruggiero, transl. Eren Branch (Baltimore, 1991), xviii-xix. Abduction is to be distinguished from deduction, that form of argument in which, if the premises are true, the conclusion is necessarily true, and from induction, that form of argument in which, if the premises are true, the conclusion is probably true. Historians generally believe, as an article of faith, that theirs is an inductive science. I would suggest, however, that many important historical arguments are better seen as abductive than as inductive, for nontrivial historical arguments will hinge in part on our own conception of ourselves and of our projects



topic true?" makes no sense at all. The only reasonable question is "Does this topic offer illumination, in the range of cases with which we are currently concerned?"

Rusen's project of a histories, which he and others have begun to apply in a variety of ways to the past and present of historiography, is rich in illuminating topics. In focusing on his notion of the disciplinary matrix of historiography, I have presented only one aspect of his histories, albeit an important aspect. His theoretical project is best approached not as an attempt to offer a definitive view of historiography but rather as a tool-box, containing questions that can be asked with illuminating effect of the immense and varied body of historiography that, after a century and three-quarters of "professional" historical production, now confronts us.


and prospects. But these can be dealt with inductively only if we have knowledge of the future— which we do not have, except, of course, trivially.


History and Theory, Vol. 33, No. 1 (Feb., 1994), pp. 39-60

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