Historik. Theorie der Geschichtswissenschaft

In the German academic world Jörn Rüsen is well known for his numerous publications in theory and didactics of history. The main concept to which his name is linked is the disciplinary matrix (disziplinäre Matrix). It systematizes the fundamental processes of historical knowledge. Rüsen’s book gives new insight on the disciplinary matrix, which has been the topic of many articles as well as of a trilogy: Historische Vernunft; Rekonstruktion der Vergangenheit; Lebendige Geschichte (Grundzüge einer Historik I, II, III, 1983-89). Meanwhile, this work looks deeper into the issue of anthropological history, already treated by Rüsen: it traces out the multiple perspectives opened by the focus directed on the concept of humanity.    

For the first time, Rüsen decided to call his epistemological program simply Historik (metahistory), placing himself in a deliberate continuity with the work of Gustav Droysen, one of the main theoricians of history, about whom he wrote his PhD in 1969. In doing so, Rüsen seems to put an end to a trajectory by taking again and deepening thoughts he has pursued for more than 50 years on the disciplinary matrix’s paradigm, on historical anthropology, on interculturality, on the links between history and memory, on postmodernism, on postcolonialism and on humanism.  
The disciplinary matrix’s features (main ideas, theories, methods, narrative forms and functions of historical writing) at stake in every historical research are here (in the line of some previous articles and books) more narrowly linked to historical culture and to the history of historiography. Subsequently, historical knowledge is no more a scientific activity which is relatively autonomous with regard to its context, but includes more generally every reference to the past giving a meaning to the present. In this sense, the disciplinary matrix is not any more perceived solely as the systematization of the processes of the scientific knowledge; it is viewed as a practice linked to the construction of meaning in the society (life’s experience, reflexivity, pragmatism or practical orientation).  
One of the most interesting aspects of this book from my point of view is the articulation between historical culture, the reflection on humanity and the question of memory. To illustrate this, Rüsen insists on the idea that every person or group considers himself/itself as bearing an idea of humanity (p. 228); he shows the modalities of such self-representations (in terms of individual and social values, of reference to history and orientation to the future). By the way, he operates the transfer from the level of the common world and experience to the deeper level of a metahistory disclosing the fundamental mechanisms laying behind such representations. It means that the 5 dimensions of historical culture (cognitive, aesthetic, political, moral, and religious) are correlated to an anthropological character (respectively thinking, feeling, willing, judging, and believing) and to a meaning criteria (respectively truth, beautifulness, legitimacy, good/bad, and Salvation).  

This book, provided with numerous helpful schemes, is divided into 8 chapters. The first one is dedicated to the definition of Historik as a metahistorical perspective on history (ch. 1) ; the second one analyzes the fundaments of historical thinking : time, historical experience, historical interpretation, historical orientation; history as a science is the topic of the third chapter with the presentation of the disciplinary matrix and its various versions; the next chapter focuses on conceptualization in history (theories, categories, concepts); the methodical rules of historical
research are presented in chapter 5 and the narrative forms in chapter 6 ; chapter 7 scrutinizes the bases of historical culture (social praxis, historical consciousness, functions of history as orientation and critics); history in its practical dimensions (didactics of history, politics of memory, historical identity, historical humanism as replacing ethnocentrism) is analyzed in the final chapter 8.  
All issues of this synthetic work have already been dealt with in Rüsen’s former writings. What is different here is the framework: the focus is not so much on the theory of history being limited to an academic activity, but its insertion in the broader context of historical anthropology. Consequently, this book of metahistory articulates more stringently, systematically and explicitly (through summaries and schemes) the analysis of the cognitive, aesthetical and ideological processes guiding the scientific writing of history (history as science), on the one side, and the processes at the basis of the formation of historical culture (history in the society), on the other.  
For the readership who is not familiar with Rüsen’s writings, this book offers a good starting point in his theory of history: his very abstract way of exposing (a criticism which has been often directed to him) is softened by references to historical and historiographical matters. As to other readers who are already familiar with Rüsen’s thought, they will not discover very new insights. It is mainly the benefits of a new synthesis and the reflections on the multiples dimensions of historical culture and humanism which can be of interest for them.