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Historiography and Historical Methods

Week X discussion questions


Joyce Appleby, Lynn Hunt, and Margaret Jacob, Telling the Truth About History (New York:  Norton, 1995).

Pages 160-309.

Chapter 5

How did T. Kuhn's argument transform the writing of the history of science?  (Explain this argument!)

What do the authors mean by the "philosophical armor of heroic science," and do the authors consider this "armor" to be sound or to be ahistorical?  Explain.

How did the "generation of the 1960s" change the writing of the history of science?  (To answer this, you have to think about the difference between the "internalists" and the "externalists.")

What conclusions do the authors think we should draw from the results of historians' new research on Newton and Darwin?

All the authors saying that all science is the result of social factors?  And do they think that science can make true statements about nature? 

Do "new" historians of science think there is an automatic connection between science and progress?  If not, then how do we avoid falling into relativism?

According to the authors, how can we understand "truth" in the history of science without "heroes"?  And what are they trying to say about the difference between "absolute relativism" and "methodological relativism"?


Chapter 6

What has been the main conservative criticism of social history, and do the authors agree?

How do the authors explain and define the set of ideas called "postmodernism," and are the authors pro- or anti- postmodernism?

What is the main point that the authors are making about the lineage of postmodernism (ie, their discussion of Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida, etc.)?

For Foucault and Derrida (etc), what is "truth"?  Explain.

There were big debates over cultural history in the 1970s-1990s--what were the debates about?  In other words, what was "new" about the "new cultural history"?  Was it necessarily "postmodern"?

How and why did postmodernism start to influence the writing of history, and how have historians reacted to this influence?  What do the authors think about the usefulness of postmodernism for historians?

Why do historians now discuss narrative as a "problem"?  In other words, what are "meta-narratives,: how do they shape the writing of history, and are "our" authors hostile to narrative history?


Chapter 7

Since the 1960s, what has happened to the idea that there is a direct connection between what historians write and the "truth" (what "really" happened)?  Do the authors see this development as entirely good or bad?  Explain.

What do the authors mean by "practical realism" and why do they think this approach would be useful for historians?

According to the authors, how is history different from science and why is this important to understand?

So, how do the authors think historians can be "objective"? What is their "new theory of objectivity" and how is it useful for historians?

According to the authors, why are the readers of history an important factor in the shaping of historical objectivity?

For the authors, in what sense is the historian writing about the past like a person turning their memories into a story about "what happened"?  Do the authors think that the process of using language to create narratives makes historians incapable of writing the "truth"?  Explain.

For the authors, why is it important that we recognize that both the sources we study and the histories we write are "texts"?  And should we assume that these texts have no "true" meaning and that every reader's interpretation is "equal" to the interpretation of every other reader?  Explain the authors' point here!

SO...  for the authors, why do we as human beings need history (just as we need memory)?


Chapter 8

OK--here's the BIG QUESTION:  according to the authors, how can we go about "telling the truth about history"?  What do they think historians must try to do and why?