In his posthumously published methodological reflections (The Historian’s Craft), Marc Bloch argued that the most remarkable achievement of historical research in the last centuries consisted “in the larger and larger role attributed to unintentional evidence”. Moreover, he added, intentional evidence like chronicles or memoirs had been read also against the intentions of those who produced it: a gesture, which he considered “a victory of intelligence over mere facts”. Ginzburg’s lecture reconstructs the long and tortuous trajectory, which paved the way to the approach to history described by Bloch, reflecting on its methodological and political implications.
Carlo Ginzburg has taught at the University of Bologna, at UCLA, at the Scuola Normale of Pisa. His books, translated into more than twenty languages, include The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries; The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth Century Miller; Clues, Myths, and the Historical Method; The Enigma of Piero: Piero della Francesca; Ecstasies. Deciphering the Witches’ Sabbath; History, Rhetoric, and Proof; The Judge and the Historian. Marginal Notes and a Late-Twentieth-century Miscarriage of Justice; Wooden Eyes: Nine Reflections on Distance; Threads and Traces: True, False, Fictive. His most recent book is Paura reverenza terrore: cinque saggi di iconografia politica (2015). He received the Aby Warburg Prize (1992), the Humboldt Research Award (2007), and the Balzan Prize for the History of Europe, 1400-1700 (2010).
The lecture is part of the ICI Lecture Series ERRANS. The English verb ‘to err’ has largely lost its positive connotations. It no longer invokes wandering, rambling, or roaming, and is now understood negatively in relation to a prescribed path or goal. To be sure, errors are acknowledged to play an important role in the pursuit of knowledge and happiness, but usually only to the extent that their recognition allows for their elimination, correction, and avoidance. Recognizing that a critique of ideals of productivity, success, goal-orientation, and determination is necessarily paradoxical, the lecture series takes the shifting meanings of ‘erring’ – connoting the violation of norms as well as the activity of wandering – as a prompt to explore the critical potentials and risks of embracing error, randomness, failure, and non-teleological temporalities, and to do so across different disciplines and discourses.
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