What Does It Mean to Think Historically?

Thinking Historically is a blog about historical processes and how it relates to our present moment.

To think historically is to provide coherence to the past. I differentiate this mode of thinking from just “the past.” On its own, the past is a string of information devoid of meaning. To piece together historical processes and mediate the abstract relationships between its many parts is the function of the historian. That is history to me, and what it means to think historically.

Today, to quote the late biologist E. O. Wilson, we are “drowning in information,” but devoid of meaning. He goes on further to write:

The world henceforth will be run by synthesizers, people able to put together the right information at the right time, think critically about it, and make important choices wisely.

To think historically is, in many ways, to be the synthesizer of our ever-expanding infosphere. That’s partly why, across virtually all areas of academia, there has been a deep historical turn. More and more people are seeking out historical meaning within their sphere of expertise. Yet, somehow, the field of history itself has hit rock-bottom in terms of degree-holders.

Part of the inspiration for creating this substack was as a defense of history as a mode of thinking and writing in its own right.

What I Cover

I provide in-depth analysis on the present through historicization. Uncovering those patterns of thought and processes unique to our time, that’s what I like to write about. Altogether, it’s about piecing together what defines our current moment and where it is headed.

When it comes to methodology, I pay particular attention to:

  • longer historical processes and their directionality

  • emergences that are unique to a particular place and time

  • narrativization and the stories people tell themselves

  • ideologies and their socio-economic formations

  • how the past ‘lives on in the present’ (and hauntology)

  • the elusive question of causality, and chaos in historical outcomes

  • the interplay of the world-system, the ‘big picture’ and its particulars

  • the power of immanent critique (and unraveling arguments on their own terms)

  • how people live-in-the-world in different eras

In layman’s terms, what do I like? I like social history, geopolitics, big ideas that move history, patterns of thought (and what makes people tick), hidden processes that influence our lives, and much more.

Although I am a historian, I cover contemporary topics as I kind of ‘historian of the present.’ I do so to underscore modern secular trends and concepts that I consider important. Keeping this mind, I try to make my writing as accessible as possible while not sacrificing detail and nuance.

However, I’m not chained to memories of the past. I write of history to speak of those processes that led us here, not to write of the present as mimicry of the past. The fundamentals of how the world organizes itself today are, in my view, changing far too fast to assume some direct parallelism with what was before. These are interesting times, so let us grant this current moment its due and think big!—Least I think so.

A little about me: I received my B.A. in history from Cornell University and an M.A. in history from Leiden University in the specialization of politics, culture and national identities. I think I learned more on my own than I did acquiring these degrees, though.

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-Anton