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According to Gerbi's classical study, the “dispute of the New World” entered a new phase in the 1780s, one marked by voices coming from the Americas. New questions were then raised about the writing of history, its method, scope and proofs. This essay pursues a dual-track enquiry, confronting the History of America (1777) by the Presbyterian minister William Robertson, a leading figure of the Scottish Enlightenment, with the Storia antica del Messico (1780–81) by the Mexican exiled Jesuit Francisco Javier Clavijero. The two works, one written from the centre of the world's commercial expansion, the other from the Pontifical States, were engaged in a sophisticated dialogue, which yields two alternative, competing conceptions of history and of humankind. To Robertson's philosophical history, which developed from a long-distance perspective, characteristic of Enlightenment, Clavijero responded by reassessing the Jesuit and antiquarian tradition, based on closeness, local expertise and direct observation.

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Marshall Sahlins , How “Natives” Think: About Captain Cook, For Example (Chicago, 1995)

Mark Salber Phillips , “Reconsideration on History and Antiquarianism: Arnaldo Momigliano and the Historiography of Eighteenth-Century Britain”, Journal of the History of Ideas, 57 (1996), 297316

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Phillips , On Historical Distance (New Haven, 2013)

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Stewart J. Brown , “An Eighteenth-Century Historian on the Amerindians: Culture, Colonialism and Christianity in William Robertson's History of America”, Studies in World Christianity, 2 (1996), 204–22

Jeremy Black , “The Enlightenment Historian at Work: The Researches of William Robertson”, Bulletin of Hispanic Studies, 65 (1988), 251–60

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Modern Intellectual History
  • ISSN: 1479-2443
  • EISSN: 1479-2451
  • URL: /core/journals/modern-intellectual-history
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