Krom M. M. What is a Historical Fact? The Evolution of Perception of a Basic Category of Historical Knowledge (.pdf)


The article traces the evolution of historians’ perception of “fact”, one of the key categories of historical knowledge, during the last one hundred years. It starts with an exposition of the positivistic paradigm of fact as an “atom” or a “brick” of history derived once and forever from historical sources. Prevailing in the late 19th and early 20th century, that view was severely criticized then by various opponents ranging from German historicists to American “presentists” and the French “Annales” School. Then, the author turns to the Soviet historiography and its discourse about “facts”, which, due to the limitations of the official Marxist methodology, could not fully free itself from the positivistic legacy. The article ends with clarifying the contours of a new concept of “historical fact” that has been formed at the turn of the 20th and 21st centuries. This concept stresses the collective nature of scholarship: “facts” are now perceived as statements about past events that the majority of historians hold to be true. In the concluding remarks, some implications of the new concept of “fact” for the further progress of historical knowledge are discussed. In particular, as a result of such “epistemological” revolution, “facts” may concede their priority to other categories of historical research, including “hypothesis”, “problem”, and “observation”.


Key words: historical fact, positivism, objectivity, relativism, historical knowledge.


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