On Studying the Past Scientifically*

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Abstract:

This critical review of Aviezer Tucker's Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography examines the character, scope, and limits of scientific historiography, the overall topic of Tucker's book. The review begins by arguing that the book both unwittingly juggles two criteria for scientific, as opposed to nonscientific, historiography – the production of knowledge and Kuhnian disciplinary matrices – and wrongly construes the subject matter of such historiography to be present evidence for the past as opposed to this evidence in addition to the past itself. There ensues a lengthy discussion of the role of theories in scientific historiography that (1) contests Tucker's thesis that theories of information transmission and grand social theories are central to the enterprise, (2) criticizes his failure to distinguish technical from theoretical terms, and (3) claims that scholarly historiography is more of an art than a science. The review concludes by arguing that scientific historiography as Tucker conceives of it cannot meet the many needs society has vis‐à‐vis the past.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00201740600831505

Affiliations: University of Kentucky

Publication date: August 1, 2006

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