The Logic of History: Putting Postmodernism in Perspective

The Logic of History: Putting Postmodernism in Perspective

The Logic of History: Putting Postmodernism in Perspective

The Logic of History: Putting Postmodernism in Perspective

Synopsis

The Logic of History reveals the rational basis for historians' descriptions, interpretations and explanations of past events. C. Behan McCullagh defends the practice of history as more reliable than has recently been acknowledged. Historians, he argues, make their accounts of the past as fair as they can and avoid misleading their readers. He explains and discusses postmodern criticisms of history, providing students and teachers of history with a renewed validation of their practice. McCullagh takes the history debate to a new stage with bold replies to the major questions historians face today.

Excerpt

This book is designed to show how historians' descriptions, interpretations and explanations of past events can be rationally assessed and justified. When historians begin their inquiries, they choose a topic which interests them and ask some questions about it. To answer the questions, they read widely and search for evidence which might help produce answers to them. They interpret the evidence they collect by drawing upon an informed imagination which reflects their general knowledge of human nature and social processes, and their particular expertise in the field. Imagination and insight provide most of the interesting hypotheses in history. In answering their questions, historians' attitudes to their subject often influence their thoughts about it, so that once they have formed hypotheses in answer to their questions, it is important that the hypotheses be tested. It is at this point that the present book becomes relevant, explaining how historians' descriptions, interpretations and explanations can be rationally assessed and justified.

Historians often learn how to assess their hypotheses by studying debates in history in the course of their education. They acquire a capacity to evaluate their hypotheses critically, without always being aware of the standards of rationality they are applying. Awareness of those standards, however, will make it easier for historians to ensure that their work is rationally defensible.

There are many good books which explain how students of history should undertake their inquiries, but they contain very little guidance as to the logic of historical reasoning. They are almost entirely about searching for answers to one's questions, and writing up the results. Yet the point of all the good practical advice is to gather information from which sound inferences about the past can be formed. Those inferences and arguments are at the heart of historical practice.

This book is designed to introduce the reader to historical arguments, not to analyse them in all their detail. In many cases, a fuller exposition can be found in my earlier works (McCullagh, 1984 and McCullagh, 1998), though many of the points made in this book are quite new. In several places I address views which I have not considered before, and almost all the examples analysed here are fresh, making use of recent scholarship. This book differs from my previous

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.