Eckhardt Fuchs, Henry Thomas Buckle: Geschichtschreibung und Positivismus in England und Deutschland, Leipzig, Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 1994, 400 pp.
John R.Hinde, "Review of Eckhardt Fuchs, Henry Thomas Buckle: Geschichtschreibung und Positivismus in England und Deutschland, Leipzig, Leipziger Universitätsverlag, 1994", Cromohs 2 (1997): 1-3 <URL: http://www.unifi.it/riviste/cromohs/2_97/hinde.html>.
1. In most accounts of the history of historiography historical positivism
and historicism are viewed as methodologically and theoretically
y divergent approaches to the study of the past. Historicism's greatest
theorist, Johann Gustav Droysen (1808-1884), set the tone of the debate
by arguing that positivism's adoption of the methods of the natural
sciences negated the hermeneutic basis of historicism and consequently
destroyed the 'uniqueness' or individuality d the human past. Not only
positivism was an approach based on the principles of natural science
incapable of revealing the 'spiritual' character of the human world, the
driving force behind the historical process, but it was unable to transform
historical study into an autonomous scientific discipline. Rather, its
'naturalistic' approach reduced history to the dubious status of a 'natural
2. Dr Fuchs' work is an important attempt to rehabilitate Buckle and
to reassess his place in nineteenth-century cultural and intellectual
history. The book is divided into two parts, the first of which examines
the development of Buckle's historical thought within the political, social
and cultural context of Victorian Britain. Although an amateur 'man of
letters' Buckle was a prominent figure in discussions about the nature
of history. At a time when the study of history was not universally
accepted as a scientific discipline, but was still considered by many
to be a literary genre, Buckle's adaptation of Auguste Comte's «philosophie
positive» to the study of history represented an innovative and
controversial attempt to discover and to create a unified, universal,
and progressive historical science.
3. The comparative aspect of this study of positivism and of historicism, and of English and German historiography, is one of the strengths of Fuchs' work, as German historians tend to focus on German historical writing and to view the development of modern science as an exclusively German phenomenon. This has often resulted in a skewed interpretation of nineteenth-century historiography. One significant implication of Fuchs' study is that historicism must not be seen as the paradigm of modern historical science, as Jörn Rüsen and his students have maintained. Both historicism and positivism were «scientific paradigms» and served as catalyst for the scientification and modernization of historiography. This view will perhaps not be accepted by all scholars. But whether or not one agrees with his conclusions, Fuchs has provided a major reassessment of Buckle and the development of modern historical writing, and this work should be read with care by all students of historiography .