Systematic Historical Epistemology
Mon Jun 9 20:37:16 2008
In his book Historians’ Fallacies, David Hackett Fischer is trying to establish an epistemological framework for evaluating and producing historical work. Fischer’s goal is not so much about doing your research and getting your facts straight, but more about the very nature of how we understand what research and facts are. He is trying to create an overall “theory of historical knowledge.”
It is an excellent attempt to systematically formalize an approach to historical epistemology. However it does show its age. It was written close to 40 years ago and is itself a document of that era. Fischer adopts the analytic-empirical model as the basis for his epistemology. It is a model that still has relevance today, and provides a good basis in research methodology for students learning the art. But it also sounds a bit quaint in light of the decades of social science research that has followed. During that time the epistemological basis of history has been a subject of heated debate. For those that are interested Alun Munslow’s brief article “What History Is” presents a concise summary of some of these developments.