Saturday, September 02, 2006

Glory in Time: An Approach to the Classics

In this speech, Historian Jeffrey Burton Russell talks about the study of history, using the example of how the medieval world conceived of the relationship of man, nature and divinity. Good as background for Dante, as well as a springboard for helping us understand the perennial allure of the Classics:
I call this approach the history of concepts. It engages other worldviews rather than imposing modern ideologies or academic fads upon them. It does not assume, for example, that a fourteenth-century mystic's experience with God was "really" a psychotic episode, a chemical dysfunction of the brain, or a fraud. The historian of concepts, aware of the precariousness and limitations of her own views, does make a value judgement. It is the judgement that the wider our world view is the better, and she does not see a way of getting a wider world view than through the history of concepts itself. For that method, by exploring the entire history of a concept, embraces all the thought about that concept from its beginning to the living present. What could give you more?

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