Facts, evidence, reality: debates in the philosophy and methodology of history

Demir, Mevlüt Can
Historians relations with the past, which is their object of production of knowledge, have always been a problematic issue. The underlying point of this problem is the empiricist claims of historians to establish a direct, unmediated connection with the past. Heavy criticism about this approach emerged with the French, structuralist philosopher Louis Althusser. Althusser argued that historians cannot have direct and unmediated contact with the past. After this criticism, another severe critique of historians’ relationship with the past came from the postmodernist side. Postmodernists again questioned the possibility of historians contacting historical reality. They said that historians cannot reveal the historical reality. Instead, they can do mere construction of the past. With direct response to Althusser, the British historian Edward Palmer Thompson argued that historians can contact the past as a result of correct questioning of facts and evidence found objectively in the past. After postmodernists engagement, historians repeated the same methodological argument to defend their territory. This situation reached its apogee with microhistorians emerging in Italy. Microhistorians approached historical evidence and facts in a new way, arguing that history writing was not a construction but a reconstruction. Although they could respond to some criticisms directed towards historians at the methodological level, they avoided discussing on the philosophical level and left many problems proposed by Louis Althusser and postmodernists unresolved.
Citation Formats
M. C. Demir, “Facts, evidence, reality: debates in the philosophy and methodology of history,” M.S. - Master of Science, Middle East Technical University, 2021.