Robert Rosenstone

Rosenstone book Cover.jpg

As a new academic year begins so too do the Futures of History seminars. This year Robert Rosenstone will be giving the first seminar.

Robert Rosenstone Adventures of a Postmodern Historian: Living and Writing the Past

Robert will discuss his evolving historiographical development over the last fifty plus years in relation to the wider cultural environment, changing notions of the “historical,” and his own life experiences undertaking research in Franco Spain, the Soviet Union, Japan, and Hollywood. He will illustrate some of these experiences and larger cultural shifts with brief readings from his new book.  The larger point is not just to show how the historian is inevitably a creature of the times, but to more specifically suggest how notions of what we consider to be “history” can and have changed significantly in the last half century, and how those macro changes can strongly impact the micro level of the individual historian.

Everyone is welcome and there will be home-made cake. Hope to see you there.

Friday 30th September 1-3pm, St Mary’s University, Twickenham, Senior Common Room

Robert A. Rosenstone, Professor of History Emeritus at the California Institute of Technology is one of the most prominent names in the fast-growing subfield of history in the visual media.  He has written works of history, biography, criticism, and fiction. His historical writings include Crusade of the Left: The Lincoln Battalion in the Spanish Civil War (1969), Romantic Revolutionary: A Biography of John Reed (1975), and Mirror in the Shrine (1988), while his books on the media include Visions of the Past (1995) and History on Film / Film on History (2006), and two edited collections, Revisioning History (1995) and A Blackwell Companion to Historical Film (2013). His fiction includes a book of stories, The Man Who Swam into History (2002), and two novels, King of Odessa (2003) and Red Star, Crescent Moon (2010). Rosenstone has worked as a consultant on several documentaries and feature films, including the Academy Award-winning Reds (1982).  He has served on the editorial boards of the American Historical Review and Reviews in American History, and is a founding editor of Rethinking History: The Journal of Theory and Practice.  

If you have any questions please email Claire or Mark.




Seminar Paper by Alun Munslow on Wednesday 11th November

800px-E8_graph.svgThe next Futures of History seminar will happen on Wednesday 11th November 2015 at 1.30 in the Senior Common Room, St Mary’s University. Alun Munslow will be giving a paper entitled “Historical Explanation and Experimental History in 3,003 Words” in which he will revisit/re-vitalise the notion of experimentalism and argue that experimental historying confronts and up fronts the ontological distinction between the past and history.

Everyone is welcome and there will as usual be a selection of homemade cakes and cookies. For more details email or

Image is “E8 graph” by Claudio Rocchini – Own work. Licensed under CC BY 3.0 via Commons –

Futures of History Seminar Series


Liz Oakley-Brown (Lancaster University) will give a paper entitled “Reanimating the Author?: Early Modern Literary Biographies and Biographical Criticism Now” as part of the St Mary’s University Centre for the Philosophy of History’s Future of History seminar series. The talk will take place on Thursday 23rd April at 2pm in the Senior Common Room at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

Toward the end of the introduction to their edited collection of essays Writing Lives: Biography and Textuality, Identity and Representation in Early Modern England (Oxford 2008), Kevin Sharpe and Steven N. Zwicker ask ‘How…might we conceive and write early modern lives in a time after postmodernity?’ (p.25). With this question in mind, Liz’s paper reviews some conceptual frameworks of recent early-modern literary biographies and looks toward a possible model for future research. 

Tea/coffee and home-made cake will be available. Everyone is welcome.

Berlin’s Invisible Omelettes: Human Nature and the Before Now

depositphotos_54006485-Walking-Carefully-Through-Broken-Egg-ShellsNext Thursday (12th March) at 2pm the Centre for the Philosophy of History at St Mary’s University will host a paper by Stephen Rainey in our Future of History Seminar Series. 

The title of Stephen Rainey’s paper is “Berlin’s Invisible Omelettes: Human Nature and the Before Now”

Abstract: Isaiah Berlin champions a sort of humanism inspired by Tolstoy to replace a C17th view of human nature. This comes through in his analysis of Giambattista Vico and Johann Gottfried von Herder. This analysis presents us with a way of looking at history in an unsettled, value-laden and contestable way. Whilst Berlin might be right about this view of history, it isn’t clear that his argument supports his conclusion. Specifically, it looks like Berlin remakes the mistakes of C17th thinkers like Descartes and posits a sort of human nature to underwrite his interpretive, postmodern history.

Dr. Stephen Rainey is a Research Fellow in Philosophy at St Mary’s University, Twickenham, having previously worked in European research projects in Belgium. He obtained his PhD in 2008 from Queen’s University, Belfast. Dr. Rainey has published articles on topics related to the philosophy of language, artificial intelligence, ethics, governance and rationality. He continues research in these areas and others. He also acts as an ethics expert for the ethics sector of the European Commission.

Everyone is welcome to the seminar. It will be held in the Senior Common Room at St Mary’s University, Twickenham and will start at 2pm. There will be a discussion and home made cake afterwards.

To see a list of our future seminars please click here

For details of past papers click here

For further details please contact or


History, Ethics and Justice

history and Justice

The next Futures of History: Cake and theory seminar will take place on Tuesday 7th October at St Mary’s University. The seminar will start at 2.30pm in the Senior Common Room – for more details about the series see here

The seminar will consist of two papers by Berber Bevernage and Anton Froeyman both from the University of Ghent followed by a discussion

Berber Bevernage

History courted by law: Some reflections on the judicialization of
history, historicization of jurisdiction

Anton Froeyman

Ethics for historians: an overview

There will of course be cake and everyone is welcome.

The image is of Justice and History a sculpture by Thomas Crawford located above the Senate bronze doors on the Capitol’s East Front – see here for more details.

An Afternoon of Arendt

Review of The future of History: cake and theory seminar series – An Afternoon of Arendt

The first of the two papers this afternoon was presented by Marije Altorf (Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at St Mary’s University) and was titled “Arendt, Herzberg, and Mulisch: Rereading Eichmann in Jerusalem” In the paper Marije discussed the controversy sparked by Arendt’s book that gave an account of Eichmann’s trial: Eichmann in Jerusalem. The debate centres on whether Arendt was right in arguing for ‘the banality of evil’ and also whether her assessment of Eichmann was correct. However, rather than focus on what Berkowitz has called the ‘Yes and No reading of Arendt’s judgment – that Arendt was correct in arguing that people can commit monstrous deeds without much thought, but incorrect in her assessment that Eichmann was not a monster, Marije argued that it might be more interesting to ask instead what kind of book Eichmann in Jerusalem tries to be, assuming we do not agree with Susan Neiman that it constitutes not only an incomplete sketch in moral history, but it is also a faulty piece of historical writing.

Marije’s paper is part of a broader research project in which she reads Eichmann in Jerusalem alongside works by two Dutch authors Mulisch and Herzberg. In the paper she first discussed in brief the three key authors, the knowledge they had of each other, and similarities between their works. She then explored Arendt’s response to the controversy her work caused in a “Note to the Reader” and “Postscript” that she added to later editions. Here Arendt reiterated her argument that Eichmann was not a sociopath or fanatic, but an unremarkable person who was looking out for his own advancement. In these later additions to the work Arendt stresses that it is important to base one’s discussion on the facts and that the book is essentially a ‘trial report’ based on sources and trial transcripts. Marije then explored in a little more depth Arendt’s understanding of a fact and the relationship between fact and interpretation before reconsidering the controversy as one arising not from differences of fact, but of storytelling.philosophy- of- history- event-10

In his paper entitled “Hannah Arendt: History, Causation and New Beginnings” Richard King (Emeritus Professor, University of Nottingham) gave an excellent introduction to Arendt’s views on history both in the context of the crisis of modernity and with regard to her concept of the ‘unprecedented’. He argued that Arendt was largely suspicious of the philosophy of history because she identified it with Hegelian and Marxist future-oriented visions, because she believed it left little room for freedom of thought, and because she was distrustful of theories that purported to explain and thus predict human action and thought. While she considered history to be a process she did not think that there was a determining telos or meaning to history. She was also concerned that history could potentially be used to justify what has happened – that when we record what has happened, it can then be seen as in someway inevitable. For her, history was a process or story that we use to construct our worlds – if we turn the past into a story in the present then it is possible to come to terms with it. Richard also discussed Arendt’s theory of politics and the political, arguing that she saw history as providing examples of authentic politics where humans remember glorious deeds, but also act and begin things anew – thus conceptualising history as a process that encompasses both the old and the new. Influenced by Nietzsche she thought that historians should use examples, ideas, or actions from the past against the present: they should use such examples to disrupt and challenge the present. Trying to avoid the pitfalls inherent in the notion of historical causality, Arendt argued for the possibility of historical elements being crystalised into something new and unprecedented. Therefore, for example while crystalisation cannot explain the cause of totalitarianism, it can tell us what historical factors were required to produce it and what was unprecedented about it – namely the bureaucratic and industrial nature of extermination, the creation of superfluous humans, and the free agency behind the camps’ creation.

Towards the end of his paper Richard King explored the change that occurred in Arendt’s historical thought between the end of the war and the Eichmann trial. While she doubted that a trial could do justice to the atrocious crimes committed she did think that the testimony of those on trial could provide a type of historical knowledge. In response to the trial she modified her notion of evil to encompass the idea of the banality of evil and thus Richard King argued new historical knowledge forced her to change her way of thinking. Considering her argument for the banality of evil in some depth King argues that her lack of knowledge of the unconscious and theories of mind meant that she perceived post-war German disassociation of the holocaust as evidence of the shallowness and thus banality of evil, rather than as a means of unconscious denial.

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Dan Stone then provided some lucid reflections on the papers and on Arendt’s work in general, suggesting that there was a degree of tension between her theoretical stance towards historical knowledge and her practice as a historian. Following this there were a series of questions from the audience and a lively discussion before we all retired for tea and homemade cake – the cakes were lemon polenta, honey spice cake, and chocolate chip cookies with Maldon sea salt.

See here for an interview with Hannah Arendt – in German, but with English subtitles

One of the key research areas Marije Altorf is currently interested in is Socratic Dialogue. She has recently published an article on Socratic dialogue entitled “Selling Socrates, or the Unexamined Life and the University,” which can be found here

Richard King co-edited the collection of essays, Hannah Arendt and the Uses of History: Imperialism, Nation, Race and Genocide (Oxford: Berghahn, 2007)  He is about to complete a major study of Arendt in America.

An Afternoon of Arendt


The Future of History: Cake and Theory seminar series run by the Centre for the Philosophy of History presents: 

An Afternoon of Arendt   

Time/Date: 14:00, 6th May 2014
Venue: Senior Common Room, St Mary’s University 

There will be two papers discussing this fascinating philosopher by Marije Altorf and Richard King followed by a commentary by Dan Stone. Home-made cakes and refreshments will be available – all welcome. For more information contact: or


14:00 – 14:45 Marije Altorf: “Arendt and Mulisch: Rereading Eichmann in Jerusalem
14:45 – 15:00 Coffee/tea and cake
15:00 – 15:45 Richard King, “Hannah Arendt: History, Causation and New Beginnings”
15:45 – 16:15 Dan Stone – Commentary


Marije Altorf, “Arendt, Herzberg, and Mulisch: Rereading Eichmann in Jerusalem

In 1963 Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem was published. The book created a controversy that lasts until today. Indeed, recent years have seen a growing interest in this controversy, with the publication of Eichmann: His Life and Crines by David Cesarani (2005), Bettina Stangneth’s Eichmann vor Jerusalem: Das unbehelligte Leben eines Massenmörders (2011), Deborah Lipstadt’s The Eichmann Trial (2011) as well as the release of the film Hannah Arendt (2012). In this paper I review this controversy by asking what kind of book Eichmann in Jerusalem is and tries to be. If it is not a ‘faulty piece of historical writing, or even an incomplete sketch in moral history,’ as Susan Neiman claims, what then? The answer to this question I find in the book itself as well as in a comparison to the works of two Dutch conte poraries: De Zaak 40/61 (1962) by Harry Mulisch, whom Arendt mentions, and the lesser known Eichmann in Jerusalem (1962) by Abel Herzberg.

Richard King, “History as Past and Future!”

One consistent theme in Hannah Arendt’s thinking about history is her rejection of history as a causally or teleologically determined process. Her great theme is the appearance of freedom in history, but also the modern tension between politics as the space of freedom and history as the workings of a process. Specifically I want to explore three interrelated issues–the presence of the past in the present; the causal importance of ideas in history; and the various meanings of the “unprecedented” in history–as they also relate to Arendt’s contribution to the secularization debate conducted by contemporaries such such as Karl Löwith, Erich Voegelin and Hans Blumenberg.

Everyone is welcome.