The Evidential Paradigm in Modern History

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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 transformationhistory became a science of inference from evidence in the present to causes in thepast. This transformation has been labelled the birth of an evidential paradigm in historicalresearch. Understanding the change this paradigm brought about was a central concern forseminal authors such as Marc Bloch, R. G. Collingwood, Michel Foucault, Carlo Ginzburgand Paul Ricoeur. My aim in this essay is to examine a specific idea that is often associatedwith the evidential paradigm ; namely, the idea that the modern historian’s relation to materialfrom the past is evidential through and through. The main aim of the essay is to show thatthis evidentialist idea is deeply problematic. I will argue that the evidentialist idea is in conflictwith both the phenomenology and the epistemology of historical research. My central claimsare that material from the past does not enter the historian’s experience merely in the form ofevidence, and that the very possibility of historical knowledge is, in fact, significantly dependenton not treating material from the past only as inferential evidence. I will, concurrently,connect these issues with contemporary trends in the philosophy of history.

Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)111–128
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2017
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

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