Introduction: The Narrativist Insight
Imagine that you go to a bookshop near you and seek out the history shelf. What you have in front of you are the main scholarly products of the discipline of history. What are they? Naturally, they are books, often with illustrated covers and, typically, hundreds of pages of writing. But is this the main scholarly product? Ink on paper? Of course not. Ink on paper amounts to sentences, and the sentences in these books express statements about the past. Now choose some page from the middle of the book and select a sentence there. Is it possible to conclude that some particular individual statement that the sentence denotes in the middle of the book is the main result of that book? We cannot say that either. The book in your hand is not a collection of unconnected sentences and statements they express. It is a text. If you turn the book and read the blurb, you may get an idea of what it actually 'says', although only reading the whole text reveals the message fully. History books include integrative views, theses or claims, and all the hundreds of pages and their sentences and statements are designed to explicate and ground those. This is what I call the narrativist insight.
Most narrativists naturally call the integrative unit 'narrative', but the essential claim is that books contain some content-synthesizing entity. The narrativist insight may appear self-evident, that is, that the books of history articulate views on the past, but this insight had not been properly analyzed before the emergence of the narrativist philosophy of historiography in the early 1970s. (Stay with me for the moment; I will explain this terminology below.) Philosophically the main problem is to spell out what kinds of objects these synthesizing entities are and what their epistemic status is. What are they composed of? Do all statements in a book contribute to the synthesizing entity? In what role? Could a synthesizing view be true? How can we choose between different views? And so on. The book now in your hand purports to answer these questions.
It is clear that answering these and other similar questions means taking a stand on the status of historiography itself. Many of the readers are probably familiar with the comparison of historiography to literature by the narrativists, and as a consequence, with identifying the central synthesizing entity as a literary product. It can be said up front that this is not how I see the matter. The traditional, Rankean, proposal is that historiography should be seen as a 'scientific' discipline. This is not feasible either, because the narrativist insight and truth-functionality are not compatible for reasons that are outlined briefly below (and at length later in the book). The view in this book is that historiography is a form of rational practice. Why this is so requires a great deal of explanation, of course. All I can say now is: please read on.
'If we reject, as I think we should, the ridiculous idea that in historical studies anything goes, then an essential and central part of our philosophical task is to determine what stops a historical interpretation; or more modestly, in case nothing stops an interpretation cold, then our task is to discover what slows one down’. So suggests Raymond Martin (Martin 1993, 32). Indeed, this is the problem: to find criteria that can be used to rank different historical interpretations, accepting that no interpretation is absolutely correct, but also insisting that it is neither the case that anything goes. From one perspective, this book could be situated between 'objectivism' and 'relativism'. 'Objectivism' is understood here (preliminarily) as a claim that narratives about the past are objectively given (by the past), and 'relativism' as an epistemic thesis that any evaluation is always relative in such a way that it perniciously erodes the epistemic authority of any historical thesis.1 It could also be said that this is a book that attempts to solve Frank Ankersmit's translation problem - that is, how to translate the past or traces of the past into a narrative of historiography (Ankersmit 1983, 76-82, 190, 216-217). Although my judgment is that this problem is unsolvable when 'rule' is understood as an algorithm that would yield a uniquely correct account of the past, I nevertheless suggest that there are rules of thumb and other criteria in a looser sense that can guide our construction and that enable the ranking of alternative interpretations in terms of their cognitive qualities. This book attempts to establish a way in which it is possible to reject absolute truth-functional standards and replace them with a cognitively authoritative rational evaluation without implying that there are absolutely correct interpretations. It will be necessary to return to the definitions of 'objectivism' and 'relativism' in more detail, but this characterization of the message of the book is sufficient for the moment. In general, I develop my reasoning progressively in this study. Later discussion builds on what has been earlier explicated. Where no deeper elucidation is possible due to limitations of space, I try to offer further references and literature for the benefit of the reader.
I have one request for the reader. This book should be read on its own merits. Although my starting point is in the contributions of the narrativist philosophy of historiography, which explains my title Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography, the book should not be seen as propagating any single existing tradition. The view in the book is an eclectic mix of theoretical influences and the aim is to produce a coherent, if not exhaustive, account of what historiography philosophically is. I would specifically ask the reader not to jump to conclusions on the basis of mere terminological or other resemblances to certain (in)famous philosophical positions. In this sense, the reviewing process of my book proposal taught me a valuable lesson. One reviewer understood the proposal as representing detrimental postmodernism and relativism; another saw it as an attempt to show how narratives can be true, and yet another read it as an unfair caricature of 'narrativism' and an attack against 'straw men'.
I am grateful to all the reviewers, but the reviews also prompt me to caution the reader. Specifically, I urge readers to be attentive to my take on some often-used concepts. At the top of the list are 'postmodernism' and 'relativism'. I do not know, which of these is more notorious, but I tackle the former first. Often a mere accusation of being 'postmodern' is enough to dismiss an account from being worth taking seriously. There might of course be proper 'postmodern accounts', and some thinkers have indeed outlined programmatic postmodern visions in various fields. The most famous of them is Jean-Francois Lyotard's Postmodern Condition (1984), but also F. R. Ankersmit attempted to formulate one in the 1980s (e.g. 1989a) and Keith Jenkins still commits himself to postmodernism (e.g. 2003). The latter kind of postmodernism will be discussed in Chapter 7. The problem is however that, in most cases where one uses the term 'postmodern', it is not clear what is meant by it and what is being objected to. The most natural reference point would be modernism, in relation to which 'postmodern' would then be defined, but this is not a great advancement, as it is too often equally unclear what precisely 'modernism' stands for. Typically the epithet 'postmodern' is attributed to accounts that allegedly suggest that nothing is 'real' or that 'anything goes'. It should become clear that this book does not represent 'postmodernism' in either of these senses.
In this book I specifically make a commitment to the notion of rationality and rational evaluation, something that is hardly compatible with the stereotypical 'postmodernist account'. The book could of course be postmodern in some other sense, if (and only if) the term is given an appropriate content. 'Postmodern' is only a term, after all. On the other hand, if categorical concepts are needed, I suggest that we look for new ones. I have chosen to call this book 'postnarrativist'.
Relativism is another bugbear in scholarly discussions. As with postmodernism, an accusation that someone is a 'relativist' is often reason enough to halt the analysis and brand the view indefensible. This is an ironic stance in philosophy, as philosophy should be the field of reflection, and reflection should make it evident that the concept in itself does not have much content. As James McAllister has pointed out, relativism expresses only a relation. Relativism concerning a property P means that statements of the form 'Entity E has P' are ill-formed, while the statements of the form 'Entity E has P relative to S' are well- formed. Naturally, this does nothing to reveal what E, P and S are. And as McAllister states, 'innumerable forms of relativism are entirely unobjectionable', such as the property of utility: a tool or an instrument, such as a hammer, is useful only relative to a purpose. What would 'absolute utility' be? Some forms of relativism may be difficult to accept, such as relativism about truth, which states that truth is always relative to some S, such as a culture or a language. My point is that these and other terms should be used with caution, and if they are judged appropriate, they should be applied only after the sense is understood and explicated. In the philosophy of science and epistemology, the property P in statements of relativism can be, for example, truth, rationality, evaluation, knowledge or reality. It is unlikely that one would find an account that is relativist in all these senses - and it can be categorically stated that this book does not represent such an account.
What is the field of this book more specifically? Nancy Partner makes a distinction between the traditional philosophy of history and historical theory in The SAGE Handbook of Historical Theory (Partner 2013). According to Partner, the philosophy of history refers to attempts to 'discern the shape and direction of very large scale changes in human collective life over long stretches of time' (Partner 2013, 1). Partner identifies Thucydides' cyclical repetitions, medieval Christian millennial ideas and Marxist and Hegelian dialectical history as examples of such 'philosophy of history'. Another relevant feature, Partner writes, is that 'history' as an ontological entity was assumed, not investigated, in this traditional philosophy of history. 'Historical theory' instead focuses on 'history' itself, asking questions concerning the kinds of representations that are offered as 'true information' of the past, the ways in which description works and the operations that produce the intelligible linguistic structures of 'events-in-time' (Partner 2013, 2).
It is clear from the above that what Partner understands as 'philosophy of history' is what used to be called 'speculative philosophy of history'. Her term is problematic, as it overlooks the so-called 'analytic philosophy of history' that flourished in the decades after the Second World War and emerged as a critical reaction to the 'speculative philosophy of history'. This analytic philosophy of history certainly did not attempt to find large patterns of history itself. And it would be wrong to suggest that analytic philosophers of history took 'history' as given. Further, although the analytic philosophy of history was interested in questions similar to those of Partner's 'historical theory', subsuming the former under the latter would obscure the fact that analytic philosophers did not attempt to build any kind of 'theory', but practiced philosophy in a manner similar to (general) analytic philosophers of the time. That is, they analyzed concepts.
Partner is of course correct to point out that the old terminologies need clarification and updating, but the distinction between 'philosophy of history' and 'historical theory' is too coarse. Fortunately, there are more apt definitions available. To begin with, one needs to distinguish history clearly from historiography - something that is done increasingly often, although not as often as is desirable. Let history refer to past events and processes, that is, historical phenomena, themselves. Historiography can then signify the results of inquiries about history - which almost always take a textual form. If one wanted to express historiography briefly with a non-technical term, it would be the writing of history or simply history writing (see Tucker 2009; see also Tucker 2004, 1-6). The first half of the definitional task has now been accomplished. Let us turn to the 'philosophy' part.
Aviezer Tucker has suggested that we abandon the old discipline- designating terms, that is, critical or analytic philosophy of history as opposed to substantive or speculative philosophy of history. On the basis of the definitions above, it can already be seen why these terms won't do. Namely, it is very useful to make a difference between objects of investigation but much less so between styles of investigation. I am mainly interested in the scholarly 'knowledge' products of history as presented by historians and not in the nature of the past and its processes as such. The latter would require metaphysical investigations while the former, if historical presenting is narrowed to scholarly historiography, constitutes a sub-field of the philosophy of science. Further, arguably, one could philosophize either speculatively or analytically (whatever these mean precisely) about both history and historiography. Finally, the distinction is also value-laden and contains an obnoxious statement concerning the worth of the philosophers who attempted to find large-scale syntheses of history. As Tucker puts it, 'Speculative philosophy is essentially a term of abuse' (ibid. 4).2
Following this distinction between history and historiography, the two central areas for investigation are the philosophy of history and the philosophy of historiography. Philosophy of history is an examination of the nature of the past and its phenomena themselves, including such topics as the contingency, meaning, and directionality of history. Philosophy of historiography, by contrast, is the philosophical study of the results of inquiries about history, including history writing, the investigation of evidence and other epistemic questions (that may precede writing) as well as the central concepts and other structuring elements of historiographical presentation. There may be cases in which one has to violate this border, but this book is a study in the philosophy of historiography before anything else. Its focus is on scholarly historiography or on historiography as an academic discipline, not for example oral or folk historiography, which are guided by more lax norms and criteria. As expressed above, this means that the book is in effect a philosophy of science book. It is worth adding that I still use the term 'analytic philosophy of history' to designate that school and those practitioners who were writing mainly in the 1950s and 1960s.
But what do I mean by the 'narrativist philosophy of historiography'? Who are the 'narrativists'? For the sake of clarity, let me begin once more with the term 'historiography'. It should be emphasized that historiography does not mean here 'the history of history writing', as the term is sometimes understood. My focus is not on the historical development of narrativist theorizing on history, although certain philosophers or theoreticians of narrative are in a central role in this study. Provided that historiography means history writing and the philosophy of historiography the philosophical study of history writing, the narrativist philosophy of historiography is the philosophical study of history writing from a narrativist perspective. That is the target of my analysis in this book but - excluding the narrativist insight, which I endorse - it is not my view of historiography. There is a reason why this book is titled Postnarrativist Philosophy of Historiography. While I fully accept and build on the narrativist insight, there are good reasons to consider going beyond narrativism in historiography.
In Our Knowledge of the Past: A Philosophy of Historiography (2004), Tucker questions focusing on the narrativist philosophy of historiography. He relies on Leon Goldstein's distinction between the 'superstructure' of historiography ('the finished product of historiographic research ... usually in narrative form') and the 'infrastructure' of historiography (invisible engagement with evidence and other research activity) (2004, 6-7). He criticizes narrativists for their emphasis on the finished product in the manner of logical positivism and empiricism before the historical philosophers of science transformed philosophy of science. Because the finished product does not reflect the actual research activity, it cannot, according to Tucker, reflect 'the historiographic process of inquiry' and be our guide into the epistemology of historiography. My view, to be specified in this book, is that the distinction between superstructure and infrastructure is not solid, because presentation is a part of the justification of a historiographical work and therefore must be a subject of historiographic epistemology. Further, the investigation of 'actual processes', if meant literally, would require studying historiography empirically as scholars in science studies and in the history of science have done in recent decades. Tucker's volume is rather a rational reconstruction of what historiographical reasoning could be. It is necessary to add that I have no problem with rational reconstruction (my evaluative dimensions are such) and Tucker's characterization may well contribute to what will be called (in Chapter 8) the cognitive justification of historiography. Still, the distinction also calls for the kind of study that investigates the actual reasoning directly in practice, which goes beyond the hypotheses and examples mentioned in his book. Lastly, and this relates to the first point, epistemological evaluation requires taking a stand on what the main cognitive product of historiography is and on what its epistemic standing is. The main cognitive product is not any singular evidential inference but something more synthesizing than this. This, my endorsement of the narrativist insight, is arguably the main difference between Tucker's project and the topic of this book.
Scholars whose primary interest is historiographical practice may wonder who the narrativist philosophers of historiography that I am talking about are. This is a good question. Yet this question also exposes a tension that exists between historical and sociological analyses on the one hand and philosophical approaches on the other. My claim is that 'narrative' as a notion and the focus on 'narrative' as an object of analysis are widespread and emerged largely due to theorizing on the role of 'narrative' in fiction and history writing in the 1970s. In this sense 'narra- tivism' could be seen as a dominant theoretical approach in the theory and philosophy of history and historiography today. Further, 'narrativism' has, as a heterogeneous theory orientation, become almost global in the humanities and certainly goes much beyond the theory and philosophy of historiography (cf. Hyvarinen 2006). Chapter 2 prepares the ground for the explicit analysis of the narrativists' philosophy by charting the awakening of awareness to the narrativist aspects of history writing among the analytic philosophers of history. The chapter also briefly introduces the two main narrativist philosophers, Hayden White and Frank Ankersmit.
It is important to emphasize that this is primarily a philosophical study and not one in intellectual history. Philosophy is abstract by nature and philosophizing is bound to lead to abstractions, not because abstractions are necessarily desirable as such but because an abstraction is thought to express some fundamental concept or principle in its bare essence and with the highest degree of clarity. My approach to the narrativist philosophy of historiography is premised on two further assumptions. One of them is normative. That is, the narrativist philosophy of historiography is the most sophisticated and developed comprehensive philosophy of historiography within contemporary theory and philosophy of historiography. This refers to the scholarship of Frank Ankersmit and Hayden White above all. This is my assessment, but I believe that it is on a firm basis, and something that this book also testifies to. One consequence of this commitment and of my endorsement of the narrativist insight is that the first part of the book (Chapters 2 and 3) concentrates on the philosophy of narrativist thinkers. Some themes that emerge in this discussion have wider significance, but a more detailed philosophical analysis will be left for subsequent chapters. The other assumption is that this narrativist philosophy can be analyzed and its essence reduced, without any significant loss, to a number of central concepts and principles. It is not claimed that all theorists of narrative explicitly commit to this view. However, it is claimed that at least the best part of narrativist philosophy of historiography implies these concepts and principles and, further, that this analysis is also quite likely to apply much more widely to the narrativist theory tradition. In other words, the analysis expounded in Chapter 3 is my suggestion toward what the essence of narrativism is, something that has not been previously explicated in sufficient detail and with sufficient philosophical sophistication. Even if Ankersmit or White would not put the matters quite in the terms as I do, my claim is that the central concepts and principles as analyzed in this book, representationalism, constructivism and holism, are implicit in their work. My aim is not to repeat what they say, but to express what the things said by them philosophically amounts to.
The oft-heard criticism of philosophical analyses that they first construct a 'straw man' only to deconstruct him is beside the point here. Martin remarks:
Having done one's descriptive homework, there is no reason why a philosopher (or anyone else) should refrain from prescribing some confirmational strategies as better than others. Of course, this is risky business for philosophers. They are standing with one foot on somebody else's turf. But those who would articulate a philosophy of historical methodology, unless they are professionally both philosopher and historian, will be standing with at least one foot on somebody else's turf. (1993, 31)
Indeed, philosophy of historiography is a risky business, because one should know both historiography and philosophy, just as the philosopher of science should know both science and philosophy. The fact that I have studied both subjects gives me some confidence in this task. More importantly, my view is that if one either manages to show what an account - such as a 'narrativist' entails, or that a coherent and compelling view can be constructed out of the elements of that account, the analysis provided should be taken seriously. Having said all this, I take some pride in the fact that I attempt to both reconstruct the narrativist philosophy of historiography crisply but fairly and to also illustrate my philosophical claims with references to actual historiographies. Although this is thus a philosophy book, I aim to exemplify my central philosophical claims with concrete examples and analyses, the approach that is most clearly visible in Chapters 5, 6 and 7.
After the initial exploration of the terms of the narrativist philosophy of historiography in Chapters 2 and 3, Chapter 4 assesses one of the key concepts of this school, representationalism. It is my suggestion that it would have been more advantageous and logical for the narrativists to have taken one further step and moved beyond representationalism altogether. That is, provided that one of the central tenets of narrativism is that narratives cannot mirror historical reality and refer to corresponding entities in the past, it would have been better to give up the idea of narratives as re-presenting something given. Sticking to representationalism requires inventing abstract objects to which historians' synthesizing presentations refer, and this approach is prone to making philosophical matters more complicated than necessary. The chapter also introduces the prospect of non-representationalism in historiography, something that will be further developed in later parts of the book.
As will be emphasized many times, I single out the suggestion that the books of history produce synthesizing views of the past as the most important contribution of the narrativist philosophy of historiography. Exaggerating slightly, one might say that everything else follows from this, much like the problem of representationalism mentioned above. Chapter 5 analyzes the presentational structures of historical works. The key questions here focus on what 'narrative' is and whether historiography is essentially 'narrativist'. To put it differently, should one assume that works of history necessarily amount to narratives? I investigate the structure of two books at length: E.P. Thomson's (1980) The Making of the English Working Class and Christopher Clark's (2012) The Sleepwalkers: How Europe Went to War in 1914. I could have chosen some other books, of course. My main criterion for choosing these is that they represent good historical scholarship and that they exemplify the kind of research that is commonly practiced in historiography. There is also one further reason for the choice. They both appear to be drafted very 'narratively', which offers a good testing ground for the examination of 'narrativity' in historiography. It is difficult to strike a balance between empirical adequacy and philosophical clarity, but these are the two chief virtues that have guided my approach in this book. It is for the reader to evaluate how well I succeed. By analyzing these histories I intend to establish that it is more fruitful to see historiography as reasoning for theses and points of views and the products of historiography as complex informal arguments than as narratives. 'Informal' signals here that 'argument' should not be understood in the rigid formal way of logic and argumentation theory, but that the techniques and forms of reasoning can come in diverse modes, including narrative persuasion.
If Chapter 4 questions the tenability of representationalism, Chapter 5 calls another key concept, holism, into question. The examples from scholarship make it easy to appreciate that the books of history cannot reasonably be considered as constituting indivisible wholes. While the entire content of a book matters, of course, it is not the case that texts could not be analyzed into smaller elements without losing the most valuable knowledge contribution of historiography. My suggestion is that it is possible and reasonable to separate the meaning of the central thesis argued for from evidence for it in a work of history.
One of the greatest philosophical challenges and consequences of narrativism is the problem of epistemic evaluation in historiography. The narrativist philosophers have suggested that only moral and aesthetic criteria are available in evaluation. Chapters 6, 7 and 8 deal with this question from different angles and try to show that cognitive evaluation can play a role in historiography. Chapter 6 deepens the analysis of historiographical language and focuses on the nature and role of colliga- tory concepts. The main example in the discussion is the concept of the 'Thaw', which has been used to describe the period of Soviet history from the mid-1950s to the early 1960s. What is the appropriate attitude to this kind of language, which is very common in historiography? One option would be to try to banish it as being too obscure. However, my suggestion is that the philosophers of historiography ought not to attempt with historiographical language what was once tried with scientific (theoretical) language by the logical positivists - that is, attempting to reduce a well-functioning discipline-specific language to some kind of simple expressions. It is less hubristic and more challenging for the philosophers of historiography to attempt to form a positive theory for the evaluation of colligatory expressions. In Chapters 6 and 7 I investigate whether colligatory concepts could be seen as justified (1) representationally, (2) referentially, (3) inferentially from historical evidence, and also (4) verificationally as empirically uniquely correct. It turns out that all these attempts fail. Chapter 7 suggests how one could nevertheless order and make choices between colligatory notions by relying on such epistemic values as exemplification, coherence, comprehensiveness, scope and originality.
Chapter 8 initiates the search for an alternative framework of evaluation in historiography, although it takes it that the ground for it was prepared already in Chapter 5 where it was suggested that books of history should be seen as informal arguments. This suggestion entails that historiography as a field can be located in the domain of rationality. Chapter 8 considers, first, what kinds of options and problems we have at our disposal with regard to epistemological judgment and with regard to rational evaluation more generally. This consideration raises the question of epistemic authority. That is, what is it that guarantees the epistemically authoritative status of an object of knowledge? I argue that whatever it is, it cannot fundamentally be a community in the Rortyan sense, but that proper epistemic authority requires community-transcendence of some kind. The problem is that truth, the traditionally favored option for acquiring epistemic authority, does not work in this context. When 'truth' is identified as correspondence, which I think is the most intuitive option, one is faced with the problem that synthesizing historical theses and colligatory expressions do not have truth-makers, that is, entities that would make them true or false, in the past. This is not to claim that there are no theorists of history who wish to see historiography evaluated truth-functionally also with regard to synthesizing expressions. The fact that there are such scholars is indeed one of my reasons for searching for a way in which we could accept both the essential insight of the narrativist philosophy and yet leave room for epistemic or cognitive3 evaluations. The existing attempts either do not take the narrativist insight sufficiently into account or they fail to adequately address the problems that emerge from the insight - namely that the synthesizing elements are the main cognitive historiographical contributions. In brief, my claim is that - despite some interesting proposals - no one has so far successfully managed to meet the evaluative challenge posed by the narrativist philosophy of historiography.
One has to find some other way to ground the epistemic authority of the central knowledge contributions of historiography than the truth- functional one. The explication of the evaluative framework by reliance on the concept of rational warrant is the task of Chapter 9, which is the culmination of this book. The stakes are thus high to the end. The notion of rational warrant is the governing concept here, but it can be further divided into three sub-components. A work of history can be evaluated in terms of its rhetorical dimension (the quality of reasoning); its epistemic dimension (in terms of epistemic values); and its discursive dimension (success as an argumentative intervention in the relevant argumentative context). The key point is to realize that all these aspects contribute to the overall cognitive and rational warrant of a historical thesis, the aim of which is to make the acceptance of the thesis compelling in its context of appearance. This suggestion resembles Quentin Skinner's idea to view texts as speech acts with which one intends to make a point in some context. The argumentative context and the notion of argumentative intervention receive a further empirical illustration in the form of the debate on the origins of the Great War.
In Chapter 10, the final substantial chapter, I will discuss a number of problematic philosophical concepts, such as constructivism and objectivity, which emerged in the preceding discussion. One of the key questions is that of when could we take an object to be 'real' and whether a constructed object can ever be seen as being 'real'. What does 'real' mean? Further, I suggest that the problem of objectivity and subjectivity is a case of a sliding scale and that practically all historiographical works should be seen as located somewhere on this axis, with almost all of them containing some degree of subjectivity and some degree of objectivity.
It is possible to summarize the conceptual landscape of this book with the help of three concepts - representationalism, holism and constructivism - which are introduced as the central tenets of the narrativist philosophy of historiography in Chapter 3. As mentioned earlier, Chapter 4 questions the commitment to representationalism and Chapter 5 the commitment to holism. Chapters 6, 7, 8 and 9 agree about constructivism with the narrativist philosophy of historiography, but detail reasons, problems and solutions more precisely than the narrativists have done. Chapter 6 deals with the main constructivist entities, colligatory notions, in historiography. Chapter 7 initiates the search for an answer to the problem of evaluation in terms of epistemic values. This search continues with the problem of truth in Chapter 8, and the comprehensive solution to the problem of evaluation is finally outlined in Chapter 9. It is important to understand that constructivism does not mean that 'anything goes' but in fact the concept of rational warrant enables one to make epistemically authoritative and rationally principled choices between historical theses. As argued in Chapter 10, the choice that a historian has to make is how much subjectivity he or she will tolerate. While it may be possible to achieve a high degree of objectivity in historiography, it comes at the expense of significance and originality: the less the historian is prepared to say, the more objective but less interesting the result is likely to be, and vice versa. Popper once said that significance in science requires bold conjectures. This, I believe, is the case in historiography too.