Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences

By Donald E. Polkinghorne | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
History and Narrative

THE study of history has a long tradition. Its methods and procedures were developed long before the Enlightenment, in contrast to the relatively youthful other human disciplines, which originated a little more than a century ago during the heyday of a fully developed formal science and its particular epistemology. History has been primarily concerned to inquire about the past activities of human agents and about nonrepeatable events, and has employed narrative descriptions and interpretation as the primary form by which it organizes and explains its data. In recent decades it has been argued that history should adopt the methods of formal science and look for laws underlying historical movements.

The first half of this chapter traces the story of the discipline of history during the last century, giving special attention to its responses to the call that it become a formal science. The story begins with the initial responses before the turn of the century, then moves to the covering-law controversy of the 1950s and 1960s, and concludes with the recent French historiographers' deemphasis of the human actor as the subject of history. The second half examines Paul Ricoeur's proposal that historical studies need to be ground by the temporal dimensions constructed by narrative forms.

I too argue that history functions as a human, not a formal, science, and that it provides a model for use in reforming the human disciplines. This idea has previously been proposed in relation to social psychology by Kenneth Gergen, 1 who wrote that "the particular research strategies and sensitivities of the historian could enhance the understanding of social psychology. 2 Gergen's position emphasizes history's sensitivity to causal sequences across time and to altered personal dispositions resulting from cultural changes. He also suggests that historians could benefit from the social psychologist's more rigorous methods and sensitivity to psychological variables.


History and formal science

Although the first comprehensive and systematic historical work in the Western tradition is held to be Herodotus's history of Persian wars, 3 the study of history

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Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences *
  • To My Parents, Elmer and Marge *
  • Contents vii
  • Preface ix
  • Chapter I - Introduction 1
  • Chapter II - Narrative Expression 13
  • Chapter III - History and Narrative 37
  • Chapter IV - Literature and Narrative 71
  • Chapter V - Psychology and Narrative 101
  • Chapter VI - Human Existence and Narrative 125
  • Chapter VII - Practice and Narrative 157
  • Notes 185
  • References 215
  • Index 229
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