The Evidential Paradigm in Modern History

A1 Journal article (refereed)

Internal Authors/Editors

Publication Details

List of Authors: Jonas Ahlskog
Publisher: Fabrizio Serra editore
Publication year: 2017
Volume number: 71
Issue number: 1
Start page: 111
End page: 128
eISSN: 2281-1141


The concept of evidence is a cornerstone for the modern idea of history. As the story goes,
pre-modern history was based on testimony from authorities in the past – modern history is,
in contrast, based on treating material from the past strictly as evidence. Through this transformation
history became a science of inference from evidence in the present to causes in the
past. This transformation has been labelled the birth of an evidential paradigm in historical
research. Understanding the change this paradigm brought about was a central concern for
seminal authors such as Marc Bloch, R. G. Collingwood, Michel Foucault, Carlo Ginzburg
and Paul Ricoeur. My aim in this essay is to examine a specific idea that is often associated
with the evidential paradigm ; namely, the idea that the modern historian’s relation to material
from the past is evidential through and through. The main aim of the essay is to show that
this evidentialist idea is deeply problematic. I will argue that the evidentialist idea is in conflict
with both the phenomenology and the epistemology of historical research. My central claims
are that material from the past does not enter the historian’s experience merely in the form of
evidence, and that the very possibility of historical knowledge is, in fact, significantly dependent
on not treating material from the past only as inferential evidence. I will, concurrently,
connect these issues with contemporary trends in the philosophy of history.

Last updated on 2019-13-11 at 03:45