Monday, 2 May 2011

A glimpse of French education in philosophy - Part II


A topic particularly interesting for journalists since it deals with facts, figures and people‘s stories.

Can historians avoid interpreting History? Problem: Can historians be objective? How can history be a science?

History’s handicaps
There is no direct observation on history - only documents and people’s memory can reconstruct the events. From this point of view, historians cannot establish an objective truth about History. People who left the evidence were themselves biased - since they were going through the events -and therefore played an active roles, whether spectators or actors. Some documents are missing as well, which means that historians have to analyse partial and biased pieces of evidence. This issue would inevitably lead to interpretation.

There is also a problem linked to individuals: extremely biased people, like communists or Nazis would give a false account of their time in their writings. Some people would even deny that the Holocaust happened. How can historians deal with those issues in order to establish an accurate account of History?

A scientific reconstruction of History

a) Historians gather documents of the studied era, study and criticise them
b) Questionning of the authenticity, the source and value of the document
c)The historians must question the truthfulness of the document as well as the coherence of it. This is why it needs to be confronted with other documents of the same era. Like other sciences, History can improve with the new updates of database.
According to Popper, if all the available documents have been taken into account and if they allow historians to verify their facts and potential theories, then History has been reconstructed in a scientific manner.

But History is not really a science…
Historians consider the events in themselves, study different people, governements and eras and those cannot be simplified into a general rule like in science. History is not an exact science given that historians have to interpret the facts within their context.