Objectivity and History

Robson opens by describing the reaction of academic institutions to Thomas S. Kuhn’s The structure of Scientific Revolutions. The “crisis”, as Robson describes it, underscored the idea of there being no real truth in philosophy and science, that the “truths” of history may not be any more real than the physical world science attempts to understand. To be clear, it describes how any one truth is just as valid as any other – that one source can be just as objective as another if there is no basis for judging what is objective in the first place.

Any new writing or other progress is based on comparison with the existing information; it’s easy to see the concern scholars have with this dilemma, how far must one go back to determine what is “correct” or “true”. But again, the written word is still subject to the biases of the author. At some point there must be a source that can be undeniably unbiased, but finding that source may be nearly impossible.

Robson makes references to the ideas of “good” and “bad” history, wherein the distinction is made through the source’s objectivity. But he says that the criterion for deciding that is what is missing – there can be no objectivity in history without this. Robson sums up this problem well, “…if I take a position in history and you agree with me, you write good history. But if you disagree with me, you write bad history”. Relativism is the reigning theory and it revolves around cultural and geopolitical beliefs. These beliefs shape the way historians describe their world.

But Robson asserts that the words of history are either true or false, that they can be backed-up and corroborated by evidence or they can fail this test and be deemed incorrect. That truth can be found in the context of the world in which it was written and still contribute to the wealth of historical knowledge. It is because of this that historians can write about subjects and provideĀ  a multitude of view points and a wide range of interpretations.

Robson, Kent E. n.d. “Objectivity and History.” Dialogue Journal. Accessed September 3, 2017. http://www.dialoguejournal.com/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/Dialogue_V19N04_89.pdf.

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