Synopsis

The present volume is a collection of studies and papers intended to characterize historical narration under consideration of the ever stronger challenges which new trends in philosophy, and postmodernism in particular, carry for historical research. At the same time reference is made to the changing practice of historians who by their very research work (including the construction of narratives) make such and other philosophical choices. This gives the pride of place to the problem of the truth-telling capacity of narratives, which has been called in question by authors entertaining postmodernist ideas. These issues, objects of lively discussions, are of considerable significance also for those historians who engage in research in practice. J. Topolski has declared in his study that his analysis is non-postmodernist, which is to say that it takes into account both the intentions of authors of narratives and the fundamental epistemological assumption of historians, namely realism. But it cannot be the classical realism, undermined also in natural science, but a realism which comes close to what H. Putnam has termed internal realism. D. Carr thinks that historical narratives, while they aim at telling truth about the past, cannot be treated in accordance with a single schema, and historical knowledge cannot be subsumed under some general paradigm of cognition. “Rather than speaking in abstract terms of objectivity and correspondence,” he says, “make more sense of history’s capacity and obligation to truth telling by considering it in concrete terms as the activity of getting the story straight.” Thus, in order to comprehend the truth-telling capacity of narratives one has to reach the intentions of historians and their communities. Similar conclusions follow from the paper by Jacques Tacq, who is concerned with the problem of causality, important in the history of philosophy and the history of science as well. His proposal is that a causal frame be treated as the frame of thought, which is guided by the research problem, which problem in turn is implied in the dependent variable. He further suggests that one should act so as if this dependent variable were a preconceived end. F.R. Ankersmit describes postmodernist historiography, which has broken with traditional epistemology and concentrated its attention on texts. He says that due to it “we have lost our naiveté with regard to the historical text and have become aware, for the first time, of the extent to which the representation of the past is structured by the hidden deep-structure of the historian’s text.” At the same time he points to the dangers of postmodernist historiography. The latter is not possible as a scholarly discipline, but may function only in a completely “privatized” way by treating texts as individual entities. W. Wrzosek studies the problem of metaphor in the cognition of the past in a broader sense. He argues that “we impart sense to the reality around us by being guided by the fundamental senses of culture, sometimes termed symbolic paradigms by Weelwright, dominant metaphors by Ricoeur, and archetypes by Eliade.” The main spans of historical thinking (such as the idea of development) are termed by Wrzosek historiographical metaphors. Two papers discuss certain paradigms in historiography. G. Zalejko, by referring to the conception of Th. Kuhn, analyzes Soviet historiography as a “normal science,” and H. Mamzer and J. Ostoja-Zagorski show the deconstruction of the evolutionist paradigm in archaeology. These papers illustrate the functioning of the mentioned historiographical metaphors in the work of historians (and archaeologists). We publish also an interesting study of Nicole Lautier, who analyzes the narrative structures from the point of view of the didactic of history placing “didactic reflection at the crossroads of epistemology and psychology.” My thanks are due to the authors who accepted my invitation and sent their contributions to the present volume.

Jerzy Topolski