The Use of History: Ideal and Reality
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Since the Renaissance, men of letters, such as Cano, Baudouin and Bodin, had criticized historians for their inaccuracies and distortions, and urged them to justify and refine their art. Responding to this challenge, made stronger by the later Cartesian attack on the validity of historical inquiry, seventeenth-century thinkers began to lay down rules for the selection of authorities and for the use of history. The late seventeenth-century controversialists, using history to nourish their theological and political arguments, were necessarily caught up in this trend. Seeking to establish criteria to evaluate each other’s arguments, they often digressed from their narratives to comment on the meaning and practice of history. They seldom presented their views systematically. In general they merely responded to specific questions raised by an adversary, or were too involved in polemical issues to dwell at length on questions of historical methodology. Nonetheless, it is possible, by extracting their statements on method from their works, to see how the controversialists viewed history, its purposes and meaning, and how it should be written. It is also possible to assess their contribution to the development of modern critical methods.
KeywordsMoral Judgment Good Historian Historical Argument Historical Writing Party Loyalty
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