Time / History

Image credit: time visually represented as a linear, unidirectional flow in Sebastian Adams, Synchronological Chart, 1881, detail. Copy at David Rumsey collection, © 2000 by Cartography Associates, under Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) licence.

Time is the conceptual axis inevitably underpinning traditional forms of Western historical narration, yet its cultural construction is not often explicitly discussed in contemporary historiography research. Recently postcolonial studies gave momentum to the calling into question of categories such as modernity, progress, crisis, revolution.

R. Koselleck’s work still constitutes a landmark, which is presently enjoying new critical fortune (e.g. excellent essays by L. Hunt 2008 and C. Lorenz 2017 discuss his recent theoretical legacy) as part of current post-colonial questioning of traditional Euro- and/or Western-centric periodizations. In this regard, it seems to me that scholarly attentiveness and theoretical refinement have been on the increase, especially since the nineteen-nineties.

I enjoined dwelling on these and other temporal issues to prepare a seminar conducted by Guido Abbattista in Trieste.

In this occasion I had the pleasure to develop some reflections on time as a dimension in which historical discourse is organized to produce meaning, interrogating what theorists such as Paul Ricoeur and Hayden White contributed to our understanding of causal mechanisms construction in historical research and communication.

Acknowledging how historical processes might look from the perspective of different temporal scales, and fictional scenarios provided by alternate history might also be useful tools to help us see and thematize the “temporal lenses” through which we look at the past.

“The Indians are a People that never value their time”

“We are fond of searching into remote Antiquity, to know the Manners of our earliest Progenitors; and, if I am not mistaken, the Indians are living Images of them.”

Colden 1747

I presented this paper – titled “The Indians are a People that never value their time”: Mappature dei “selvaggi” e concettualizzazioni del tempo storico nello spazio nordatlantico del primo Settecento – at the 2019 conference of the Italian Society for the Study of the XVIII century (L’invenzione del passato nel XVIII secolo, 27-29 May 2019).

Aim of this research is to look at and locate conceptions of time as part of the processes that characterized European
encounters with populations perceived and represented as ‘others’ during the eighteenth century, in order to lay bare the connections between the development of new ideas of time and the geographical expansion of Western colonial powers.

Here’s the conference program

“I suspect our Interpreters may not have done Justice to the Indian Eloquence”

At the postgraduate conference “Forme e linguaggi della comunicazione storica, dall’antichità all’epoca contemporanea” in 2019 I delivered a paper drawing on Cadwallader Colden’s History of the Five Indian Nations (1727, 1747) to reflect on textual genealogies and translations in the late-modern Nord Atlantic.

In this research I came across quite a few significant loci in which the history of American “savages” became a competing ground between English and French authors, and the Indian eloquence a fascinating topic for Eighteenth-century travellers and writers to argue the status of American societies as instances of humanity in its infancy.

The conference was organized by some colleagues from the PhD course in Historical Studies at the University of Florence. They did an amazing job putting together a programme across disciplinary boundaries.

Lahontan, New voyages to North-America (tr. Nouveaux
voyages
) (London, 1703) vol. II, title page. Copy at John Carter Brown Library via Internet Archive. No known restriction for scholarly use.

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