How to Study History: Nicolas Lenglet Dufresnoy and the Heritage of ars historica


  • Anne Eriksen University of Oslo



ars historica, historiography, Lenglet Dufresnoy, magistra vitae-topos


Nicolas Lenglet Dufresnoy first published his Méthode pour Étudier L’Histoire in 1713. A very popular work in its own time, it saw numerous translations and editions during the eighteenth century. The article investigates Lenglet’s work as part of the early modern tradition of ars historica. In the eighteenth century this once so fashionable art of reading history did no longer represent a methodological novelty, but had become more a pedagogical tool. The article explores the ars historica in its late phase of popularization and general distribution.

To Lenglet and his contemporaries, history was a collection of instructive examples, serving as ‘the teacher of life’. The lessons to be learned were about psychology, emotions, and ethical values. The reader of history was to get to know himself, but also, in more general ways, to know ‘the opinions and passions of men.’ History was a mirror of humanity. The article investigates how the understanding of history as a collection of examples reflects early modern experiences of temporality, as well as how it influenced assessment of historical truth.


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