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Stephen Davies has written the essential primer to the methodological wars among historians that crested in the 1990s. While other fields of social science (economics and political science especially), have gone their merrily productive ways, the rotgut of epistemological relativism within the humanities that affected English literature and other fields continues to roil historians. What is the student to do? Consult Davies' well-considered slender volume first. Davies guides the doomed and eager between the sirens and shoals of recent and classic literature. The evolution of the discipline from 18th and 19th century sources is admirably surveyed the in the first two chapters. The third examines the most classical definition of history: biography. Not that he restricts himself to Herodotus or Plutarch's Lives; far from it! Rather, he concerns himself with Carlyle, Gooch, and recent thinkers such as E. H. Carr whose notions run smack into this populist genre and define "history" to most people. The problem of Hitler and the Holocaust is a case example for the virtues and limitations of the method. Next, Davies examines institutional history, the rise and fall of Whig history - a perfect base, given its revival in recent Nobel winning economics, from which to defend empirical history. In fact, his grasp of economic thinkers exceeds that of all but 99% of all historians. Inverting the commonest of contemporary perceptions, he quotes Schumpeter to the effect that even economics owes more to history than it does to statistics or theory. From here, he discusses traditional political history, asking if it really is the master narrative traditionalists have made it out to be. Then he surveys the rise of economic history and the problematic field of the history of ideas.Read more ›
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