The knowledge, varied approaches, concepts, and methods of collecting evidence and interpreting the past are essential to the study of history. These approaches are not static; they evolve as society and culture evolves, and evolution of approaches and methodology is vital to the continued study of history. The tradition of cataloging and referencing is the foundation of traditional history and this is their legacy to the modern practice.The new approaches of history have seen the value of borrowing from the knowledge, approaches, and concepts of other disciplines. The modern historian takes what is useful from each approach and uses it to build the best history; that is in harmony with their personal vision, values, and experience to gain greater understanding of the past.
Empiricism was a reaction to the Romanticism of the early nineteenth century which celebrated feelings and the popular culture of the present to evaluate the past. It associated outstanding attributes with specific cultures and the institutional and traditional practices within that society. This concept evolved into nationalistic sentiment; that enhanced the virtues of individual national heroes and historic actors in history. It also sanitized the past by omitting unfavorable aspects of the society and its culture, while failing to fairly scrutinize the past, to affect a history that promoted racism, national superiority, nationalistic ideologies and interests. Empiricism was a corrective action that promoted objectivity and scientific method to the pursuit of history. (Howell and Prevenier, 9-12)
Empiricism’s basic tenets are that with historical knowledge nothing can be assumed. Historic evidence should be meticulously studied, both in the small and large details, and that the evidence should be verifiable. Personal beliefs, value, and preconceptions should not influence the evaluation of evidence. (Green and Troup, 3)
Historic knowledge is gained by recollection of actual experiences. Any preconception of view or experiential knowledge should be dismissed; speculation based on intuition is not accepted as evidence. This is because the past exists separate from the individual’s experience, and should be evaluated from the perspective of period that it had existed and not from any other, separated from any personal judgment of the historian which is irrelevant. The facts should speak for themselves; valid knowledge should be observable and verifiable. If these tenets are observed scrupulously, the result should be an accurate recreation of historic events that are objective and unbiased. (Green and Troup, 2-3) Documental evidence should be evaluated for the elements of purpose; who wrote it, and why did they write it. The textual evidence should align with author’s perspective.
The materialistic approaches were a reaction to the Empiricist belief that politics and key figures were the main drivers of historical events and change. The Materialists rejected this...