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Hayden White on the Practical Past

by David Aldridge (Purposes, Ethics and Beliefs) http://www.brookes.ac.uk/about/events/e-items/HaydenWhiteLecture Podcast here. A couple of weeks have passed now since I heard Hayden White giving a guest lecture to the faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at Oxford Brookes, and I’ve had some time to digest what he said, as well as go back over the copy of Oakeshott’s ‘On History’ that a colleague pressed into my hand afterwards. White’s aim was to reclaim the ‘Practical Past’ that Oakeshott was so careful to separate out from the practice and product of the historian, in pursuit of a ‘history’ that might contribute to ethical or deliberative debate. The best way to understand Oakeshott’s practical past is through one of his examples: his own father’s exhortations to his children, who have tired of walking and become ‘disposed to lag’, that ‘this…is not what Trojans would do.’ The Trojans were, for the young Oakeshott, ‘not long-perished people, the intricacies of whose lives, per…