Partial readings: Addressing a renaissance archive

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By considering a variety of readings of Renaissance Florence from Burckhardt to the present, this article discusses the nature of the interrelation between the archive and the historian, with a view to illustrating the partiality of both. The records contained within the archives are by nature fragmentary; vestiges of the past, they are also partial in the sense of being subjective, testimonies to past relationships either between individuals or between individuals and institutions - social or political. Likewise, the readings of historians are partial both in the sense that the historian's research is focused upon particular parts of the archive and in his or her subjectivity as an historian. Interestingly, in this context post-Burckhardtian Florentine historiography shares common ground, however unwittingly, with certain aspects of post-modern writing in decentring the subject, for observations concerning the partial subjectivity of Burckhardt's Renaissance individual apply equally to observations concerning the partial subjectivity of historians as writers. The fiction of an objective historical method producing hard history becomes apparent once the static relation of historian as subject researching the archive as object is reconfigured as a dynamic and dialectical process. Through the acknowledging of the contingency of such archival readings it becomes apparent that the archive itself is a symbolic construct constituted through the process of writing.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)89-105
Number of pages16
JournalHistory of the Human Sciences
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - May 1999


  • Archive
  • Burckhardt
  • Florence
  • Individualism
  • Renaissance


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