Sogustrio: Greinar og frasagnir um hugmyndafraeoi [A War of History: Articles and Episodes about Ideology].
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Bjarnason, Halldor
Pub Date: 09/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Fall, 2010 Source Volume: 44 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: A War of History: Articles and Episodes about Ideology (Essay collection)
Persons: Reviewee: Magnusson, Sigurdur Gylfi
Accession Number: 238770880
Full Text: Sogustrio: Greinar og frasagnir um hugmyndafraeoi [A War of History: Articles and Episodes about Ideology]. By Sigurdur Gylfi Magnusson (Reykjavik: Center for Microhistory and the Reykjavik Academy, 2007. 527 pp. $24).

The present work is a collection of already published articles and essays since 2000 and new chapters which serve to explain and illuminate the author's scholarly activities. The essence of the work deals with the way historians, especially social historians, conduct their research. More precisely Magnusson argues for the use of the micro perspective and personal sources within social history but without linking the findings with the larger historical context. He wants social historians to carry out their research solely on the basis of the historical topic in question - without reference to the general history This is because he maintains it has been distorted by metanarratives historians have constructed over time and the only solution is to start afresh to avoid the misleading historical interpretations historians have created.

Magnusson has put forward his case in two articles in the Journal of Social History in 2003 and 2006. The present work adds little to his arsenal employed in the articles, and given that the bulk of the book is in Icelandic and intended as a contribution to long-standing arguments with Icelandic historians over their practice of history, the reader of JSH may wonder about the work's relevance to him. Two important guest contributions to the book justify paying the work attention among social historians interested in the methods of their disicpline.

Professor Peter N. Stearns, the author's principal supervisor in his doctoral study at Carnegie Mellon University, opens the book with a guest introduction entitled "Debates about social history and its scope". Stearns discusses Magnusson's historical methodology and in a word rejects the author's stance that his version of microhistory can serve as a solution to the challenges that social history faces, especially after the linguistic turn. Furthermore, Stearns argues that microhistory as the single legitimate mode of research is neither capable of tackling the diverse topics existing within social history nor useful in comprehending the wide spectrum of time, space and subjects that social historians study.

Another eminent social historian, Harvey J. Graff, honors the author by adding an epilogue, "History's war of the wor(l)ds", to the work where he offers a preliminary yet profound criticism of Magnusson's rethoric. Graff justly reminds the reader of the author's difficulties in combining European intellectual strands and concepts with American. However, Graff finds many shortcomings, for instance, in Magnusson's "definition and demarcation of key concepts" and that he needs to be "more self-conscious and consistent" in his use of theories. Graff also says that the author's "critique and counterpropositions would gain from a clearer examination of the nature and processes of historical change". To sum up, Graff raises many weaknesses in the author's rethoric, and they undermine his own argument and make it difficult for other historians engage in intellectual conversations with the author.

Magnusson is to be praised for the confidence he shows by offering his critics a venue in his own work. But as Graff aptly says in his epilogue, Magnusson "impressively throws caution, tradition and humility to the winds," and these characteristics are the merits and faults of the present work. As a reader of the Icelandic material in the book, one can raise questions about unsolved problems that he does not address and which remain problematic for his methodology. For instance, are collective sources such as law and minuets of meetings illegitimate or useless because they are not products of individuals? Apart from that, patent solutions in historical methodology such as Magnusson's often tend to serve rather as straight jackets than wings to reach longer and higher. Eclecticism may be a taboo in some historical quarters, but diverse modes of research depending on questions, sources and context seem to offer more viable ways to the past than one particular prescribed route. Besides, Magnusson's one way attitude contradicts the postmodern winds that blow in his work.

Halldor Bjarnason

University of Iceland
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