Phrases from R. G. Collingwood’s classic essay “The Historical Imagination,” written in 1935 and included in The Idea of History (1946), recurred to me while reading Stefan Collini’s new book, The Nostalgic Imagination.1 Since we cannot experience the past perceptually, Collingwood observes, we can only imagine it as “an object of our thought,” so that “all history is the history of thought.” The historian is part detective, making deductions from clues, and part novelist, constructing a credible, coherent narrative. The present is “the evidence for its own past,” and the historian aims at “reconstructing the past...


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