The Fetish of Accuracy: Perspectives on Early Modern Time(s)

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Early modern protagonists desired temporal accuracy but were unable to achieve it, we often read in historians’ studies. As a result, nobody cared about temporal precision in everyday life. In this article on early modern temporalities, I argue that historians have too often assumed a desire for accurate time and subjection to imprecision in the sixteenth century. This assumption relied on establishing the early modern period as ‘the other’, a foreign object of study, where accuracy of time measurement serves as a distancing device. Such approaches to early modern history may turn periodization itself into a language of temporal judgement and construction that hampers our understanding of sixteenth-century realities of time. The historiography’s fetish of accuracy, I argue, is more revelatory of modern conceptualizations of modernity than the temporalities of early modern protagonists. Nevertheless, it is important to stress that this viewpoint is not against approaching early modern sources with a set of present questions in mind. This article brings to the surface the implications of present questions and shows how accuracy has been made a yardstick for past societies and present cultural hegemonies.

Bibliographical metadata

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)267–284
JournalPast & Present
Issue number1
Early online date28 Apr 2019
Publication statusPublished - May 2019

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