Introduction to Section 1

In this section, we engage in a critical dialogue with the idea of periodisation types, taking as our starting point the typology developed by Jörn Rüsen and introduced in chapter 2 “Making Periodisation possible.” Here, Rüsen categorizes “narrations of time” (i.e. Zeitverlaufsvorstellungen) or periodisation models as traditional, exemplary, genetic and critical types of narrative. In the five case studies that follow, we attempt to reexamine these typologies, considering, for example, the powerful hold of some of the most prevalent traditional and exemplary periodisation schemes in the world—speaking of the recurrence of revolutions, for example, in establishing linear concepts of historical thinking, or making use of established chronotypes such as the division into Ancient, Medieval, and Modern History. Genetic readings, according to Rüsen, emphasize the particular (national, racial, state) development of certain time frames within certain socio-historical and space-time contingencies, while critical approaches question the usefulness of specific periodisation schemes and the entire idea of their permanence. While Rüsen would contend that all of these typologies can be read within a universal scheme, which is able to cover “the multitude and diversity of human life forms,” the authors in this section each of whom take the perspectives of individual historical actors very seriously, are offering a variety of readings with different regional and disciplinary foci: from Islamic history writing (race), to subaltern history (class politics), from American history (time logics), to EurAsian Histoire croisé (space-logics) and finally, from the perspective of the Palestinian (non-) state.

The papers critically position themselves vis-à-vis the typology offered by Rüsen, by showing variations to what he has called traditional approaches to periodisation which emphasize the enduring value of certain normative epochal events (such as the Italian Renaissance, the Mongolian Invasion, the French Revolution, the Fall of the Berlin Wall) and their aftermath from which general rules for the development of time, with a universal and eternal validity within a certain historical unit are formulated. While they discuss what Rüsen calls exemplary narratives which take such normative epochal events and make these events into chronotypes (Medieval, Modern), falling themselves more into the genetic and the critical, they question, at the same time, to what extent typologies such as the four suggested by Rüsen, are in fact applicable to different regions, times, races and state forms. As Suzynne McElrone argues, periodisation is “temporal and temporary; by nature and function it is impermanent.” Indeed, as she argues, all periodisations are always already “subjected to re-evaluation and likely reorganization in the future as a result of, or sometimes in order to engender, a paradigmatic turn in our interpretation of the significance of the pasts they have ordered.” In her words: “The future restructuring of periodisations may be catalyzed by uncovered aspects of the past that had remained hidden, future pasts that will have occurred in the interim, or the development of an innovative mode of thought that shifts perceptions about existent interpretations of the past.”

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