Why do we interpret the past as we do, rather than in some other way or not at all? What is the significance of the fact that we interpret the past? What are historical interpretations? Raymond Martin's approach to these questions transcends both the positivist and humanistic perspectives that have polarized Anglo-American philosophy of history. Martin goes to the source of this polarization by diagnosing a deep-seated flaw in the dominant analytic approach during the period from 1935 to 1975, namely, the emphasis on conceptual analysis rather than the examination of actual historical controversies. As an alternative, Martin proposes an empirical approach that examines what makes one historical interpretation better than its competitors.
In addressing how historians should decide which explanations are better, Martin opts for a case-by-case analysis of historiographical practice as opposed to establishing general criteria. His book offers several detailed case studies, involving such topics as the collapse of Lowland Maya civilization in the ninth century A.D., the fall of Rome, and the alleged historical priority of St. Mark's gospel over the other synoptic gospels.
Originally published in 1989.
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