History and Theory 38 (1):67–83 (1999)
Rather than reflect on the process of an alleged "modernization" of historical scholarship, an intercultural comparison of historiography should take the European origins of academic history as its starting point. The reason, as this article argues, is that in non-European countries the European genealogy of the discipline of history continued to structure interpretations of the past. Both on the level of method, but more importantly on the level of interpretive strategies, "Europe" remained the yardstick for historiographical explanation. This article will use the example of postwar Japanese historiography to show that historians resorted to a European model in order to turn seemingly unconnected events in the Japanese past into a historical narrative. This is not to imply, however, that Japanese historiography passively relied on concepts from Western discourse. On the contrary, Japanese historians appropriated and transformed the elements of this discourse in the specific geopolitical setting of the 1940s and 1950s. This act of appropriation served the political purpose of positioning Japan with respect to Asia and the "West." However, on an epistemological level, the priority of "Europe" persisted; Japanese historiography remained a "derivative discourse." Studies in comparative historiography, therefore, should be attentive to these traces of the European descent of academic history and privilege the transnational history of historiography over meditations on its internal rationalization
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