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The Killing of History: How Literary Critics and Social Theorists Are Murdering Our Past [Paperback]

Keith Windschuttle
3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 1 2000
A huge success in hardcover, The Killing of History argues that history today is in the clutches of literary and social theorists who have little respect for or training in the discipline. He believes that they deny the existence of truth and substitute radically chic theorizing for real knowledge about the past. The result is revolutionary and unprecedented: contemporary historians are increasingly obscuring the facts on which truth about the past is built. In The Killing of History, Windschuttle offers a devastating expose of these developments. This fascinating narrative leads us into a series of case histories that demonstrate how radical theory has attempted to replace the learning of traditional history with its own political agenda.

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Australian scholar Keith Windschuttle is one of the fieriest participants in the debate about the practice of history. In The Killing of History he decries the growth of so-called cultural studies in place of the old-fashioned facts-and-chronologies approach. Windschuttle's passion sometimes carries him a bit too far, but he lands many solid punches, such as when he takes on the heavily published French scholar Michel de Certeau, who has called writing a tool of the power elite. "For someone who thinks writing is a form of oppression," Windschuttle twits, "he has done a lot of writing." Elsewhere Windschuttle attacks efforts to explain away such matters as human sacrifice among the Aztecs, saying that to accept such behavior is akin to "accepting the cultures of Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia as equal but different." --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

Australian author and lecturer in history, social science, and media, Windschuttle presents an articulate, acerbic, sustained but balanced attack on postmodernist theory and its influence on the practice of history. After a survey of the major tenets of postmodern theory with its radical relativism, the author examines a series of case studies where the practice has been applied, such as Cortes's conquest of Mexico, movie versions of Mutiny on the Bounty, and the Hawaiian system of signs in the interpretation of Captain Cook's existence. He also includes a long chapter on Foucault. Showing the inconsistencies, errors, contradictions, and illogic that resulted from the postmodernist approach, he ultimately argues that the relativism and rejection of empirical research by such theorists produces a tribalism that disarms the marginalized groups it proposes to liberate. While oriented toward Australian intellectual circles, this book is readily accessible and deserves a wide audience.?Thomas L. Cooksey, Armstrong State Coll., Savannah, Ga.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Icebergs in the sealanes Aug. 28 2003
Format:Paperback
Keith Windschuttle was a young radical who grew up to become a scourge of the progressive intelligentsia and intellectual fraud. He is a courageous advocate for his causes and he is prepared to venture into the "lions dens" of his opponents to engage them in face to face debate, most recently in connection with his book "The Fabrication of Aboriginal History".
This earlier work is a critique of some modern theorists and theories which threaten to turn history and the humanities at large into an intellectual wasteland. It should be placed on the shelf alongside Sokal and Bricmont's book on intellectual impostures, though unfortunately the downside of both books is that the authors have misread the philosophy of Karl Popper and so depict him as a part of the problem and not as an ally.
The first chapter "Paris labels and designed concepts: The assension of cultural studies and the deluge of social theory" provides a valuable overview of the various intellectual icebergs that are floating loose in the sealanes of discourse. Many of the key players hail from France, though the German Heidegger was a major influence in paving the way for younger generations. Marxism and socialism in various forms provide a subtext for the movement, even while Marxism in its more rigorous traditional forms has become unfashionable. Cultural studies has become the major growth area on campus, catering for the perceived grievances of various groups and political movements.
The deluge of cultural theory incudes structuralism and semiotics, poststructuralism, and various kinds of postmodernism. The latter are classified as: the Neitzsche and Heidegger version; The Paris 1980s version (Lyotard and Baudrillard); the art and architecture version; the literary version; and the popular culture version.
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Format:Paperback
This is a book for a GENERAL audience - the widest possible reading public - because it's nothing short of a backlash against political correctness. I truly believe that wildly revisionist histories at least make us THINK, and can even throw new light on old stories (however dim that light might be). But we also need books like this to skewer obscurantist writing and the semiotic worldview - and I'm still not absolutely sure what semiotics is, which is part of Windschuttle's point. This is a stern check to a pendulum that might otherwise fly off the pin. He doesn't dismiss our elegiac feelings for the pre-Columbian world, he redirects it to the tribes that suffered genocide under the Mexica sacrificial knife. On the other hand, there are sections of his book difficult to read only because they're so hilarious. Structuralism? One of Windschuttle's unfortunate targets cites Captain Bligh's threat to make his crew "eat grass like cows." The author, Greg Dening, apparently goes on in his book to explain the crew's cultural understanding of those words, and I could hear the squeaky wheels of Monty Python's Trojan Bunny approaching. I find it very difficult to laugh helplessly and continue reading at the same time.
You won't be bored, or - God forbid - lost in the foreign language of postmodernism and hermeneutics!
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5.0 out of 5 stars The Totalitarian Era of Political Correctness May 27 2004
Format:Paperback
The essence of history, writes the author, is that it once tried to tell the truth, to describe as best as possible what really happened. Not anymore. No longer is there a distinction between history and fiction in this, one of many fronts, in the culture wars against Western Civilization. We find a war of atrocities committed by the West upon itself. As the Australian Windshuttle carries us through the wreckage we find objectivity has been abandoned, truth hopelessly politicized.
But no vacuum remains. The old objectivity is replaced by kind sounding censorship, control and quiet vendetta - a score to settle with the West. The author shows this is not isolated but permeates the West's political system, media and every university that once considered education its aim. The attack is not only on history but on knowledge, truth, the categorical separation of disciplines, and - in keeping with a perpetual incapacity of modern thinkers to grasp science - even that science fabricates its understandings of nature to serve political bias, regardless of truth. (Fortunately, nature is the final judge.)
One such "new movement" theory discussed by Windshuttle, structuralism, claims people are incapable of seeing outside structures imposed by their culture - a psychological edifice confining every thought to this structure. But structuralism cannot account for new movements outside the status quo. Insights radically outside accepted modes of thought are the mainstay of scientific and social revolutions - Einstein or Jesus. Windshuttle dismantles structuralism by showing how Sahlins and Dening not only lie about history but force-fit history to match their prejudice - the opposite of scientific method.
Double standards are glaring.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Intellectual Complains About Other Intellectuals Feb. 24 2003
Format:Paperback
This is a book for a very specific audience. Windschuttle lays out a well-researched debunking of the current politically correct fads in the discipline of history. You'll find this book useful if you're interested in the esoteric differences among structuralism, poststructuralism, modernism, postmodernism, postcolonialism, relativism, tribalism and a long parade of other isms, not to mention a few stragglers like semiotics and hermeneutics. Certainly these theories and schools of thought have become popular among historians, much to the detriment of strict historical study at the expense of real "facts." As Windschuttle nicely sums up, these disciplines start with ill-defined theories then bend the historical facts to fit the theory. A prime example is the shifting treatment of European explorers and the uncritical praise of non-Western viewpoints.
Unfortunately this book merely becomes an intellectual catfight that is better left to the obscure halls of academia. Windschuttle fails to explain what true historical "facts" really consist of, and how his own strictly traditionalist approach is morally or literally superior to the new disciplines. In fact, Windschuttle shows many indications of a frustrated right-winger fighting back against the left-wing fads, with no possibility of compromise in the middle, and no possibility of admitting that his approach may have some weaknesses as well. This is most evident in the effort Windschuttle expends in painstakingly debunking some very minor works by minor academics, such as Greg Dening in Chapter 3 and Paul Carter in Chapter 4. This book merely shows one intellectual complaining about his peers, with little effort to explain how this applies to the non-academic world. Such disputes have little connection with the general public and are suspiciously personal in nature, as Windschuttle has merely expanded these very doctrinaire disputes with his colleagues into book form.
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Most recent customer reviews
1.0 out of 5 stars amusing
One reviewer, Bruce H, in agreeing with Windschuttle remarks "Windschuttle makes his case...". Read more
Published on May 29 2004 by Daniel M
5.0 out of 5 stars A decisive critique
This is a superb book, one that not only deflates the arguments of postmodern theory, but gets down to cases, demonstrating the flaws of postmodernism's pomps and works in treating... Read more
Published on July 24 2003 by Richard B. Schwartz
5.0 out of 5 stars A modest suggestion that this book should be read
In case any reader might be put off by "Ray from Victoria" writing on 12 Jan 2003 "its author is less concerned with the purity of history than with defending a... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2003 by Jeremiah
1.0 out of 5 stars Polemic in bucketsful
At least some academics interested in the theory of "history" seem to be excited about this book. I suspect they are the anally retentive ones who feel threatened by any attempt... Read more
Published on Jan. 12 2003 by Ray
3.0 out of 5 stars Dishonest Template, Strong Criticisms
Relativism should simply be the recognition that "the map is not the territory" (A. Korzybski). Postmodernists, to varying degrees, take this insight and just start randomly... Read more
Published on Sept. 6 2002 by S. Allan
5.0 out of 5 stars Where relativism came from and why it doesn't make sense
Don't let the title of the book fool you. While the title may seem to be something of an exaggeration, I think Windschuttle makes his case. Read more
Published on Aug. 11 2002 by Bruce H
5.0 out of 5 stars VERY GOOD POLEMICS: SOUND REASONING
If you ever wonder who killed truth and the whole nature of empirical history, even empirical science, Windshuttle has the answer and it is unequivocally the fault of the... Read more
Published on July 31 2002 by Rodney J. Szasz
5.0 out of 5 stars A Work for Many Fields
This book is both entertaining and informative, and not only for those focused on history as a discipline. The structuralist/postmodernist/et. al. Read more
Published on Dec 6 2001
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for students, teacher, & writers of history
From Herodotus and Thucycdies down to the present day, historians strive to record the truth about the past. Read more
Published on Jan. 10 2001 by Midwest Book Review
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