Ankersmit Narrative Logic 1983

Bibliographical Record

Frank(lin) Rudolf Ankersmit, Narrative Logic. A Semantic Analysis of the Historian's Language, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, 1983 (ie. Volume 7 in the Martinus Nijhoff Philosophy Library).

Reading Notes


(Pages 1-5)

Ankersmit points to the growing dissatisfaction of the historiographical community with the questions of the covering laws or the problems of hermeneutics (p.1), because it sidelines the problem of historians use narratives to give interpretations.1

Ankersmit then provides a summary of the forthcoming arguments (p.2-3).

Ankersmit considers history not to be a social science (p.3):

The social sciences can learn more from history than history from the social sciences: historiography is a pure culture of many of the methodological troubles that haunt the social sciences.

While narrative philosophy is at odds with hermeneutic theory or speculative philosophies of history, it has affinity for Ankersmit to the historist endeavor, exemplified in past masters such as Huizinga, Ranke, Meinecke,2 and in the more contemporary works of Lucien Febvre, Fernand Braudel and Trevor-Roper.

Chapter I: Preliminaries

(Pages 6-28)

Ankersmit is interested in establishing the logical foundations that form the analytical basis of historical narratives (p.6). In order to do so, he distinguishes them from the simple presentations of historical facts, such as a collections of quotations in the spirit of Q on the one hand, and from the historical novel on the other. The "more" of such a narrative is the narrative framework, which Ankersmit defines at a later point.3

Ankersmit (p.8) unobjectionably proposes to differentiate between the fact finding of historical research and the Verschriftung or emplotment [word-choice RCK] of writing a historical narrative, i.e. (p.8)

the narrative writing of history

Against, Oakshott, Ankersmit (p.8) maintains that this distinction between research and writing is valid, even if each of the activities influences the other. In this context, Ankersmit can speak of (p.8)

a specific frame of narrative interpretation

Ankersmit (p.9) thinks that recent philosophy of history had over-emphasized the research question and now work needs to be done on the issue of narratio. Ankersmit (p.10) rejects the criticism of Mandelbaum that narrativist historiography must focus on the intentional actions of the protagonists; rather Ankersmit suggests that all kinds of historical facts for exploring big concepts such as the Cold War are legitimate subject matters for narrativist historiography. In this context, Ankersmit expressively permits (p.10)

concepts and theories unknown to the historical agents themselves

In the context of (p.10 fn 6), Ankersmit points to the notions of unintended consequences, as exposed by Hegel and Mandeville, and considers them to be fatal for the Hermeneutic interpretations and the historiographical idealism of a Collingwood, Dray, Van Wright or Martin.

Next, Ankersmit (p.11) turns to discuss Goldstein, who had claimed that historiographical super-structure (i.e. narrative) had not really changed much since Thukydides, while historiographical infrastructure (i.e. research methodology) had been the main locus of innovation since the inception of Greek historiography.

Equally, Dray had argued the great historians such as Huizinga or Braudel lacked any form of story or narrative in their master works; but Ankersmit (p.11) thinks that this is a problem of what features people associate with the term narrative. Especially (p.12) in the historiographical works that are diachronic, the (p.12)

cross-sectioned histories

as Ankersmit calls them, are prime examples of narrativist historiography. And this is due to the fact that they exhibit nicely the logical problems of such linguistic entities as the Renaissance or the French nation.

In this context, Ankersmit (p.12) makes it clear that with his notions of narratio and narrative substance, he really means no more than "historical interpretation", or (p.12) > Since such theses, interpretations and 'points of view' always require a narratio for their exposition, I describe my investigation as an investigation of the historical narratio.

Ankersmit objects (p.12) to any psychologism, of the type of Gallie (p.13) or other narrativists, who worry about the "emotional machinery" used to make the historian-reader communication successful. Ankersmit (p.13) equallly criticizes Louch's requirement that narratives be very evocative—e.g. through the use of words such as "cunning" or "friendly", which trigger shared emotional experiences in the audience. Ankersmit believes that such claims express a confusion between the past as such, which no evocation can bring closer, and the historical record thereof.

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Chapter II: The Ideal Narratio

(Pages 29-57)

Ankersmit ….

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Chapter III: The Sentence and the Narratio

(Pages 57-78)

Ankersmit ….

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Chapter IV: Narrative Idealism versus Narrative Realism

(Pages 79-95)

Chapter V: Narrative Subjects and Narrative Substances

(Pages 96-139)

Chapter VI: The Nature of Narrative Substances

(Pages 140-198)

Chapter VII: Narrative Substances and Metaphor

(Pages 197—226)

Chapter VIII: Explanation and Objectivity in History and Narrative Substances

(Pages 227-247)


(Pages 248-252)


The notion of Narrative Logic

This early work of Ankersmit works out the basic elements of the representational theory that he will continue to espouse over the years, as already the introduction makes amply clear (p.2-3) — including the turn to the metaphor (p.3)

Ankersmit's approach is pragmatic in noting that the difficulty of separating the middle of two extremes —e.g. the neck and the body (p.9) — are no arguments against identifying the extremes.

Narratives (p.5) provide the unifying framework for historical facts, such as the quotes of participants of the historical events, while the framework provides the point of view of an interpretation (p.8; p.12). These frameworks are not restricted to what would have been intelligible to the participants (p.10), just as they can support the unintended consequences of the protagonists, against all Hermeneutic an historiographically idealist approaches.

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