The past is what happened. History is what we remember and write about that past, the narratives we craft to make sense out of our memories and their sources. But what does it mean to look at the past and to remember that "nothing happened"? Why might we feel as if "nothing is the way it was"? This book transforms these utterly ordinary observations and redefines "Nothing" as something we have known and can remember.
"Nothing" has been a catch-all term for everything that is supposedly uninteresting or is just not there. It will take some—possibly considerable—mental adjustment before we can see Nothing as Susan A. Crane does here, with a capital "n." But Nothing has actually been happening all along. As Crane shows in her witty and provocative discussion, Nothing is nothing less than fascinating.
When Nothing has changed but we think that it should have, we might call that injustice; when Nothing has happened over a long, slow period of time, we might call that boring. Justice and boredom have histories. So too does being relieved or disappointed when Nothing happens—for instance, when a forecasted end of the world does not occur, and millennial movements have to regroup. By paying attention to how we understand Nothing to be happening in the present, what it means to "know Nothing" or to "do Nothing," we can begin to ask how those experiences will be remembered.
Susan A. Crane moves effortlessly between different modes of seeing Nothing, drawing on visual analysis and cultural studies to suggest a new way of thinking about history. By remembering how Nothing happened, or how Nothing is the way it was, or how Nothing has changed, we can recover histories that were there all along.
About the author
Susan A. Crane has been a professor of history at the University of Arizona since 1995. She is the author of Collecting and Historical Consciousness in Early Nineteenth-Century Germany (2000) and editor of Museums and Memory (2000) and The Cultural History of Memory in the Nineteenth Century (2020).
"A startlingly original book: incisive, layered, punny and funny, politically sensitive and passionate, feisty, and thoroughly unimpressed with authority even when impressed with authority's insights."
—Peter Fritzsche, author of Hitler's First Hundred Days: When Germans Embraced the Third Reich
"Nothing Happened is a delightful romp through what is really meant when nothing is invoked to describe something. This is a remarkably original book that transforms how we see history. It is clever and funny and serious and illuminating. You won't want to put it down."
—Marita Sturken, author of Tourists of History: Memory, Kitsch, and Consumerism from Oklahoma City to Ground Zero
"Nothing's left? What does it mean to say that—of a page, of a photo, of a street, of a city, of a loved one? Susan A. Crane, in her invigorating and often funny study of Nothing, tells us vividly why saying Nothing reveals so much about its speaker and so little about history."
—Peter Toohey, author of Hold On: The Life, Science, and Art of Waiting
"Written with both wide-ranging intelligence and intellectual courage, Nothing Happened is a book of striking interest and originality. Susan A. Crane mobilizes a remarkable range of material and knowledge, creating her very idiosyncratic, and serially insightful discussion on a single unfathomable paradox."
—Geoff Eley, author of A Crooked Line: From Cultural History to the History of Society
"[Crane] does not crowd her book or overwhelm the reader. Her patience remains consistent throughout, ensuring the reader's arrival in the end regardless of their scholarly starting point. Nothing Happened takes time to digest and can be enjoyed a second time around....Crane teaches the reader a way to view history. What we do with it is up to us."
—Vesper North, Los Angeles Review of Books