Time and the Shape of History

Penelope J. Corfield

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June 12, 2007
336 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
20 b/w illus.
ISBN: 9780300115581
Cloth

Also Available in:
e-book

This ambitious book explores the relationship between time and history and shows how an appreciation of long-term time helps to make sense of the past. The book is devoted to a wide-ranging analysis of the way different societies have conceived and interpreted time, and it develops a theory of the threefold roles of continuity, gradual change, and revolution which together form a "braided" history. Linking the interpretative chapters are intriguing brief expositions on time travel, time cycles, time lines, and time pieces, showing the different ways in which human history has been located in time.
In its global approach the book is part of the new shift toward “big history,” in which traditional period divisions are challenged in favor of looking at the entire past of the world from start to end. The approach is thematic. The result is a view of world history in which outcomes are shown to be explicable, once they happen, but not necessarily predictable before they do. This book will inform the work of historians of all periods and at all levels, and contributes to the current reconsideration of traditional period divisions (such as Modernity and Postmodernity), which the author finds outmoded.

Penelope J. Corfield is professor of history at Royal Holloway, University of London. Among her books are Language, History & Class and Power & the Professions in Britain, 1700-1850.

Visit the author's website.

"A nuanced exploration of the ways in which different views of time shape our understanding of the past. Ms. Corfield's central claim is that the same moment in history can be viewed as a radical break, a modest marker of gradual progress or, simply as just more of the same. . . . Ms. Corfield shows, time plays seductive tricks with our judgment, guiding our sense of cultural wisdom, civilizational triumph and spiritual mystery, and causing us to disagree about such things, seemingly forever."—Wall Street Journal

"This exploration of a key dimension of life deals comprehensively with time's impact on all that has existed since the emergence of the cosmos. . . . The book offers scholars, particularly historians, valuable information on a neglected topic. . . . Recommended."—Choice

“[A] brilliant and thought-provoking exploration. The sheer range of [Corfield’s] inquiry is breathtaking. Where many historians these days do the equivalent of peering through microscopes, examining relatively short periods in great detail, she takes up a powerful telescope … Ilustrations… interact with the text to illuminate the thesis. Anybody interested in history will find it a riveting read.” - W.A Speck, History