When explaining the aim and purpose of the present volume, the editors urged contributors ‘to describe and give a raison d’être for what they think history ought to be at this particular point in time, such that everything they think a historical consciousness might consist of could be realised in the future’. Self-evidently, this is the quintessential quesion to ask both historians themselves and philosophers of history. We can only agree here with Huizinga when writing that ‘history is the mental form in which a civilization accounts for its past’.2 Crucial in this definition was for Huizinga this notion of ‘accounting for’ (in Dutch: ‘zich rekenschap afleggen van’). He insists that this term subsumes in itself the following elements: the requirement of the reliability (‘betrouwbaarheid’) and authenticity (‘echtheid’) of the kind of knowledge offered by the historian; and the necessity to transcend the differences between narrative, scientific and instructive history. But, above all, this ‘accounting for the past’ will inevitably involve an appeal to the social, political, cultural and ethical standards that are specific for the civilisation to which the historian belongs. In sum, history is never merely a passive registration of what the past has been like, as was suggested by Ranke’s famous obiter dictum that the historian ‘merely wants to show what the past actually has been like (“er will bloss zeigen wie es eigentlich gewesen”)’.3 History always is, and ought to be, an interaction between past and present.4 It is a kind of double looking-glass in which the past is mirrored by the present and the present by the past. It follows from Huizinga’s
definition that the historian always has obligations towards both the past and the present: good and meaningful history is written in the name of the present. So, the editors’ demand that the contributors to this volume should ‘give a raison d’être for what they think history ought to be at this particular point in time’ brings us to the heart of all historical writing and of what should inspire it.