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The Oxford History of Historical WritingVolume 3: 1400-1800$
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José Rabasa, Masayuki Sato, Edoardo Tortarolo, and Daniel Woolf

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199219179

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2015

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:osobl/9780199219179.001.0001

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The Historical Thought of the French Philosophes

The Historical Thought of the French Philosophes

(p.406) Chapter 20 The Historical Thought of the French Philosophes
The Oxford History of Historical Writing

Guido Abbattista

Oxford University Press

This chapter examines the phenomenon of the French Enlightenment, which was committed to a radical revision of basic assumptions that left an enduring mark on the European notion of history-writing. Among the numerous shifts made by the historians of the French Enlightenment were two innovations that became a part of European historical thought. In the eighteenth century historians developed the need to articulate their self-perception as members of a society representing a stage in the incremental progress (a word that came to acquire its modern meaning principally in this era) of humankind. Parallel to this innovation the historians of the Enlightenment also revised the notion of civilization. They used it as a means to analyse the human world as a coherent set of social patterns, and argued for the greater significance of these patterns in comparison with the traditional focus of historiography on rulers, notables, and public institutions. In retrospect, this eventually proved to have been a process of self-clarification and experimentation in both the collecting and assessing of historical sources and the establishment of cognitive goals for the study of the past.

Keywords:   French Enlightenment, historical writing, historiography, self-perception, civilization

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