Updating ‘modernity’

From my mailbox today:

Futhark is a new journal dedicated to the publication of scholarly studies based on premodern texts (prior to 1945) from a humanistic perspective, though not necessarily philological.

Dunno, I always thought that ‘premodern’ meant before 1800 or thereabouts.* I suppose it’s inevitable, however established our basic historiographical period conventions may seem right now, that it should be updated and that ‘modern’ is going to be a continually moving target.** (OED: “Of or relating to the present and recent times, as opposed to the remote past; of, relating to, or originating in the current age or period”; “Characteristic of the present time, or the time of writing; not old-fashioned, antiquated, or obsolete; employing the most up-to-date ideas, techniques, or equipment”. Etc, etc. And I don’t even want to start on all the varieties of usage for ‘early modern’.)

But still, anything more than 60 years old is now classified as ‘premodern’?


*Not that I’ve ever liked ‘premodern’, I should point out. As an undergrad, I once wrote a fantastically profound snotty and precocious essay mostly about everything wrong with the concept ‘premodern’ (or perhaps it was ‘preindustrial’) – just because the term happened to appear in the essay question. I got away with it, as I recall.

**Well, unless someone somewhere can come up with a new concept to replace it altogether, I suppose (and I mean something less lame than ‘postmodern’).

This entry was posted in Opinions. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to Updating ‘modernity’

  1. rob says:

    # that’s when I reach for my revolver… #

  2. sepoy says:


  3. vausey says:

    I have pondered this one too and I have no great wisdom. Somtimes when I have the gigglies I like to call it the Fabulous period (see my current research bias?). I am also not happy with the division of Reniassance England and the Long Eighteenth Century. Anyone have any thoughts, especially on the latter?

  4. Katrina says:

    I got the same email today, and was likewise puzzled. Imagine, all this time I thought I was doing modern history! (I’m a 19th/20th centuryist)

  5. Pete says:

    I thought “Pre-Modern” referred to events prior to the Early Modern Period, which can be pegged at the end of the 17th Century… But dating and nomenclature is always up for debate. And of course, this is an undergrad opinion as well I really haven’t studied anything called “Pre-modern” before :)

    The only thing lamer than calling our present time “postmodern” was the tag “post-postmodern world” I read in a historiography of cultural history.

  6. In Japanese historiography they distinguish between kindai (lit: Recent Age) modern history and gendai (lit: Present Age) contemporary history. Don’t know if that helps much…

    Given the time and effort which has gone into defining “modernity” it seems kind of a shame to toss it off entirely: there’s some utility in having a rubric which contains the various components of modernity (this is getting a bit circular, I know), and there’s a convenience factor, too.

    “Post-modern” is too fraught to be useful at all; post-industrial is a terrible misconception about the nature of the economy. I think “digital” or “wired” is going to be the next age…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.