As a tool for analysis, Carl E. Schorske writes, history can be used in two very different ways. We can study the past in order to "orient ourselves in the living present," in the hope, perhaps, of not reliving yesterday's tragedies. In doing so, we treat history as a static object and object lesson. Alternately, we can view our lives as part of a continuum, "linking or dissolving static elements in a narrative pattern of change," making history a living thing.
Either way, in Schorske's view, history takes center stage as a way to examine the human enterprise. In the essays contained in Thinking with History, he looks from both viewpoints into the beginnings of the modern era, writing of such groundbreaking artists and thinkers as Gustav Mahler, Richard Wagner, Sigmund Freud, and Rainer Maria Rilke, whose relationships with the dominant cultures of 19th- and early-20th-century Europe were frequently tense, and whose work constituted powerful critiques of their time. Schorske forges connections between our time and theirs, writing, for instance, that 1860, the year of Mahler's birth, was "the beginning of a heady liberal 'glasnost' and 'perestroika' ... in the Habsburg Empire." But he finds many differences, too, to suggest that some things do change with time, and even for the better. Schorske's book is a thoughtful look into the recent past, of particular value to readers with an interest in intellectual history and historiography. --Gregory McNamee [via]