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University of Chicago Press
Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice / Edition 1

Historical Knowledge, Historical Error: A Contemporary Guide to Practice / Edition 1

by Allan Megill


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In the past thirty years, historians have broadened the scope of their discipline to include many previously neglected topics and perspectives. They have chronicled language, madness, gender, and sexuality and have experimented with new forms of presentation. They have turned to the histories of non-Western peoples and to the troubled relations between “the West” and the rest. Allan Megill welcomes these developments, but he also suggests that there is now confusion among historians about what counts as a justified account of the past.

In Historical Knowledge, Historical Error, Megill dispels some of the confusion. Here, he discusses issues of narrative, objectivity, and memory. He attacks what he sees as irresponsible uses of evidence while accepting the art of speculation, which incomplete evidence forces upon historians. Along the way, he offers succinct accounts of the epistemological road historians have traveled from Herodotus and Thucydides through Leopold von Ranke and Alexis de Tocqueville, and on to Hayden White, Natalie Zemon Davis, and Lynn Hunt.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780226518305
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 02/01/2007
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 304
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Allan Megill is professor of history at the University of Virginia. He is the author of Prophets of Extremity:Nietzsche, Heidegger, Foucault, Derrida and Karl Marx: The Burden of Reason (Why Marx Rejected Politics and the Market), and editor of Rethinking Objectivity.


Table of Contents

Introduction: The Need for Historical Epistemology

Part I. Memory
            1. History with Memory, History without Memory
                Memory versus History
                History and the Present
                Conflicting Attitudes toward the Past 
                History’s Legitimate Roles
            2. History, Memory, Identity
                Identity and the Memory Wave
                Identity, Memory, and Historical Understanding 
                History, Memory, and the Unknown

Part II. Narrative and Knowledge
            3. Does Narrative Have a Cognitive Value of Its Own?
                The “Crisis” of Narrative
                The Epistemological Limits of Narrative
            4. Narrative and the Four Tasks of History-Writing 
                Explanation and Description
                Narrative and Braudel’s Mediterranean
                The Four Tasks of History-Writing

Part III. Objectivity and Speculation
            5. Objectivity for Historians
                Objectivity and Commitment
                Defining Objectivity
            6. A Case Study in Historical Epistemology: What Did the Neighbors Know about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings?
                (by Steven Shepard, Phillip Honenberger, and Allan Megill)
                A Disputed Case
                Inference to the Best Explanation 
                Thagard’s Three Criteria
                A Fourth Criterion
                Inferring the Relationship
                The Case for Our Alternative Account
            7. Counterfactual History: On Niall Ferguson’s Virtual History and Similar Works

Part IV. Fragmentation
            8. Fragmentation and the Future of Historiography: On Peter Novick’s That Noble Dream
            9. “Grand Narrative” and the Discipline of History
                  Four Ideal-Typical Attitudes toward the Overall Coherence of History
                  Four Postulates Suggested by the Preceding Account
            10. Coherence and Incoherence in Historical Studies: From the Annales School to the New Cultural History
                 The Annales School and the Problem of Coherence
                 The Annales School: From Convergence to Multiplicity
                 Coherence as a Willed Commitment
                 Conclusion: Against Current Fashion


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