The Idea of History

1946 R.G. Collingwood, The Idea of History
2001 "The Idea of History" at Quondam

R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
p. 282:
How, or on what conditions, can the historian know the past? In considering this question, the first point to notice is that the past is never a given fact which he can apprehend empirically by perception. Ex Hypothesi, the historian is not an eyewitness of the facts he desires to know. Nor does the historian fancy that he is; he knows quite well that his only possible knowledge of the past is mediate or inferential or indirect, never empirical. The second point is that this mediation cannot be effected by testimony. The historian does not know the past by simply believing a witness who saw the events in question and has left his evidence on record. That kind of mediation would give at most not knowledge but belief, and very ill-founded and improbable belief. And the historian, once more, knows very well that this is not the way in which he proceeds; he is aware that what he does to his so-called authorities is not to believe them but to criticize them. If then the historian has no direct or empirical knowledge of them, what kind of knowledge has he: in other words, what must the historian do in order that he may know them?
p. 282-3:
In a general way, the meaning of the conception is easily understood. When a man thinks historically, he has before him certain documents or relics of the past. His business is to discover what the past was which has left these relics behind it. For example, the relics are certain written words; and in that case he has to discover what the person who wrote those words meant by them. This means discovering the thought (in the widest sense of that word: we shall look into its preciser meaning in sec. 5) which he expressed by them. To discover what his thought was, the historian must think it again for himself.
[I could paraphrase this entire paragraph in terms of drawings versus written words.]
p. 283:
Suppose, for example, he is reading the Theodosian Code, and has before him a certain edict of an emperor. Merely reading the words and being able to translate them does not amount to knowing their historical significance. In order to do that he must envision the situation with which the emperor was trying to deal, and he must envision it as that emperor envisioned it. Then he must see for himself, just as if the emperor's situation was his own, how such a situation might be dealt with; he must see the possible alternatives, and the reasons for choosing one rather than another; and thus he must go through the process which the emperor went through in deciding on this particular course. Thus he is re-enacting in his own mind the experience of the emperor; and only in so far as he does this has he any historical knowledge, as distinct from a merely philosophical knowledge, of the meaning of the edict.
[This explains my process once I started to "read" the plan (after I achieved a critical mass of drawing). Moreover, it describes what I'm doing now in terms of "archeological" research.]
p: 283: (the steps of the re-enactment process)
Or again, suppose he is reading a passage of an ancient philosopher. Once more, he must know the language in a philosophical sense and be able to construe; but by doing that he has not yet understood the passage as an historian of philosophy must understand it. In order to do that, he must see what the philosophical problem was, of which his author is here stating his solution. He must think that problem out for himself, see what possible solutions of it might be offered, and see why this particular philosopher chose that solution instead of another. This means re-thinking for himself the thought of his author, and nothing short of that will make him the historian of that author's philosophy.
p. 283:
Such as objector might begin by saying that the whole conception is ambiguous. It implies either too little or too much. To re-enact an experience or re-think a thought, he might argue, may mean either of two things. Either it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought resembling the first, or it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought literally identical with the first. But no one experience can be literally identical with another, therefore presumably the relation intended is one of resemblance only. But in that case the doctrine that we know the past by re-enacting it is only a version of the familiar and discredited copy-theory of knowledge, which vainly professes to explain how a thing (in this case an experience or act of thought) is known by saying that the knower has a copy of it in his mind. And in the second place, suppose it granted that an experience could be identically repeated, the result would only be an immediate identity between the historian and the person he was trying to understand, so far as that experience was concerned. The object (in this case the past) would be simply incorporated in the subject (in this case the present, the historian's own thought); and instead of answering the question how the past is known we should be maintaining that the past is not known, but only the present. And, it may be asked, has not Croce himself admitted this with his doctrine of the contemporaneity of history?
[I could paraphrase this whole paragraph to explain my personal experience in the redrawing process. It also relates to the subtitle of my proposed book. I should become familiar with Croce.]
p. 289:
We now pass to the second objection. It will be said: "Has not this argument proved too much? It has shown that an act of thought can be not only performed at an instant but sustained over a lapse of time; not only sustained, but revived; not only revived in the experience of the same mind but (on pain of solipsism) re-enacted in another's. But this does not prove the possibility of history. For that, we must be able not only to re-enact another's thought but also to know that the thought we are enacting is his. But so far as we re-enact it, it becomes our own; it is merely as our own as we perform it and are aware of it in the performance; it has become subjective, but for that very reason it has ceased to be objective; become present and ceased to be past. This indeed is just what Oakeshott has explicitly maintained in his doctrine that the historian only arranges sub specie praeteritorum what is in reality his own present experience, and what Croce in effect admits when he says that all history is contemporary history.
[It will be helpful to bring up this second argument in relation to my own "reenactment." It also relate to the new presence of the Campo Marzio due to my redrawing of the Ichnographia in an entirely new medium.]
p. 300:
To disengage ourselves from these two complementary errors, we must attack the false dilemma from which they both spring. That dilemma rests on the disjunction that thought is either pure immediacy, in which case it is inextricably involved in the flow of consciousness, or pure mediation, in which case it is utterly detached from that flow. Actually it is both immediacy and mediation. Every act of thought, as it actually happens, happens in a context out of which it arises and in which it lives, like any other experience, as an organic part of the thinker's life. Its relations with its context are not those of an item in a collection, but those of a special function in the total activity of an organism. So far, not only is the doctrine of the so-called idealist correct, but even that of the pragmatists who have developed that side of it to an extreme. But an act of thought, in addition to actually happening, is capable of sustaining itself and being revived or repeated without loss of its identity. So far, those who have opposed the 'idealists' are in the right, when they maintain that what we think is not altered by alterations of the context in which we think it. But it cannot repeat itself in vacuo, as the disembodied ghost of a past experience. However often it happens, it must always happen in some context, and the new context must be just as appropriate to it as the old. Thus, the mere fact that someone has expressed his thoughts in writing, and that we possess his works, does not enable us to understand his thoughts. In order that we may be able to do so, we must come to the reading of them prepared with an experience sufficiently like his own to make those thoughts organic to it.

Campo Marzio - book outline redux
The story of my own incentive will be combined with the reenactment theories of Collingwood. It makes sense because my initial incentive was to fathom the unfathomable, and this became possible because of CAD, and thus through CAD I began to redraw/reenact Piranesi's process.
Combining Piranesi's "reenactment," his "redrawing" of history with the nature of his archeological "accuracy" makes more sense than having the two sections separate. I will start with Vico's "philosophy" and this blends very well with the previous chapter's ending with Collingwood. And this will lead into the issue of archeological accuracy. I will give a brief account of how Piranesi seems to sometimes deliberately confuse the issue. And from here I can address the plan on a case by case basis. I will conclude with the authenticity vs. veracity issue, and also suggest that perhaps Piranesi altogether entered virgin territory. I like the notion of ending with the idea of a new virgin territory because it leads perfectly to the next section which focuses on "Piranesi's Imagination and the Fertility of Roman Architecture."
I will start the imagination/fertility section stating the case for the multivalance of Piranesi's imagination and how all aspects of his imagination are evident in the Campo Marzio. I will list the operational modes and then correlate them to his entire oeuvre, and then to the Campo Marzio specifically. I would like to follow up with a concise explanation of the "fertility" of Roman architecture. I will follow this up with the Tafuri, Fasolo, and Wilton-Ely quotes. Finally, I will deliver my analysis of the hierarchy of the plans.
Staying with this section a bit more, I can call in Eisenman's comments about Piranesi from the Charlie Rose Show, and I should re-read Wilton-Ely's chapter "Fever of the Imagination." After just going through my notes, I think this will be the easier sample chapter for me to do. I have lots of material and I also have most of the drawings that I need to do for the analysis. I just thought that I could also include the contiguous/generative element analysis to this section as well.
I am now combining the former last two sections, and again this also makes sense. My notes so far on these sections are very sketchy, and most no longer even apply. The topics covered will center on the overall virtuality of Piranesi's work, which includes the type of spaces (environment) he designed as well as the way he depicted them (his "documentation"). This will lead to the Campo Marzio in the computer and how the new possibility of 3-D. I have experimented a little with generating aerial perspectives of the Campo Marzio plan, and this is just one example of representation ("documentation") that is now only available because of CAD technology. I would like to see this section end with an exploration of the Campo Marzio as a 3-D extrusion of the plan itself.

Ichnographia book - note 1
This then leads right into my analysis of the Triumphal Way, and here I will lay out my entire theory which culminates with the inherent symbolism of inversion that is found along the entire path. I have today reread the Plattus article, and it is even more helpful than I remembered, especially with regard to its view of the city itself as a stage set that is played upon. In many respects, this section will be an exposition of exactly what I have learned because of finding the Plattus article when I did. This section will end with the notion of the powerful and long-standing tradition of reenactment.
I will pick up the reenactment theme first with Piranesi as triumpator and the Ichnographia as one more Triumphal procession in the long history of the Roman reenactment. From here I will go into my reenactment vs. reconstruction theory, and therefore Vico will also come into play along with everything else involving reenactment.
I will end the dedication addressing my own reenactment-redrawing process, and here I will bring in the theories of Collingwood. In conclusion, I will explain how my initial dedication of the Campo Marzio web pages to my father became for me the cornerstone of my reenactment, and I will finalize it all with mentioning the parallel-comparative association father and son, me and my father, Romulus and his father Mars.

2001.08.16 10:06
I also borrowed Hedrick's History and Silence, which was in the exact same stack area as the CIL. Seeing that Hedrick immediately writes about Piranesi in the book's Preface made the book doubly interesting to me (and if you've been to www.quondam.com you already know why). Yes it is a very good (and quite timely) book. Last night when I got around to reading chapter four at leisure (I skipped to chapter four, but already read the preface during dinner), I found myself understanding exactly what Hedrick was relating, namely that he was very close to describing reenactment. I quickly (and delightfully) found that the first footnote in chapter four references Collingwood and reenactment.

2002.01.10 00:40
Not Tampa, Florida anymore
I'll try to briefly outline (reenact) how I came to see a strong relationship between reenactment and (some but certainly not all aspects of) design.
I began redrawing Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan with CAD in 1987. I've been fascinated with this plan since the late 1970's, and I saw the opportunity to utilize the automated drawing/drafting capabilities of CAD in (re)drawing all the complicated individual plans of the Campo Marzio, which comprise many repetitive units, and manipulating repetitive units is precisely one of the things CAD is very good at facilitating.
In the early 1990s I begin an intensive redrawing of the plan, and at the same time I became reacquainted with Susan Dixon, a friend from my college days who went on to get a PhD in Art History, and her dissertation was on Piranesi's archaeological publications, of which the Il Campo Marzio is one. Together (via phone conversations) Susan and I begin speculating as to what the meaning of the Campo Marzio plan might be. Many theories were speculatively put forth, but reenactment was never one of them.
The second week of August 1997 I split my energies between doing research on the Campo Marzio and research on the philosophy of history as it might relate to my theory of chronosomatics. In Encyclopedia Britannica (edition 1969) under "Philosophy of History" there is a passage explaining Vico which, while reading it, made me think of Piranesi's Campo Marzio. There is also a list of 20th century philosophers of history and the titles of the works. Collingwood's The Idea of History is among these. I go to Barnes and Nobles that same day and buy Vico's New Science and Collingwood's The Idea of History. I read the passages in The Idea of History that deal with reenactment. It dawns on me that I've been doing a kind of reenactment by redrawing Piranesi's plan.
Thursday, September 4, 1997 (coincidentally the day architect Aldo Rossi died) I find Plattus's "Passages to the City: The Interpretive Function of the Roman Triumph" in Ritual (1983). I finish reading the essay Friday night. Saturday morning I watch Diana's funeral, and it quickly hits me that I am watching exactly what I just spent the last two nights reading about. Since Piranesi himself delineated the path of the Triumphal Way through his plan of the Campo Marzio, I begin to wonder whether Piranesi too was playing some kind of reenactment game in his redrawing of the large urban plan.
It is after this point that much of the prior ten year's work begins tightly piecing together, and the notion of reenactment also aids in better understanding what information I collected further in research.
For me reenactment was a learning tool, albeit for the most part a tool I didn't even know I was using. For Piranesi, however, (and this is what I've come to understand) reenactment was a design tool, specifically an urban design tool, whereby he generated an entirely new rendition of Rome. A Rome, moreover, that is essentially a conglomeration of many specifically themed environments, i.e., themed environments that relate exactly the history of the very places where Piranesi positioned his new designs. This is why I say Piranesi's Campo Marzio is not a reconstruction, rather a reenactment. By all indications, Piranesi was very conscious of the play of degrees of separation that reenactments involve.
Piranesi also (re)designed the city of Rome as a double (history) theater, namely the double theater of Rome's Pagan and Christian existence.
Modern architectural historians/theoreticians up to now never figured out the reenactment angle of the Campo Marzio, hence it (the plan) was interpreted as either pure fantasy or some sort of design mish-mash that negates all possible meaning. It is largely because of this prior misinterpretation (and its present widespread acceptance) that makes me so adamant about advancing an understanding of reenactment and design.

2004.05.11 15:03
Re: ducked around ?
...you say "i would say history is already written , no way to reenact it," but written history is itself a reenactment in that those that write history either 'recollect' events that they themselves already experienced or it is written by people that never even experienced the events they write about.
The whole premise of Collingwood's The Idea of History is that for historians to more accurately write history they have (at least mentally) reenact the past events.




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