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Journal Article

PERFORMING HISTORY: HOW HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP IS SHAPED BY EPISTEMIC VIRTUES

HERMAN PAUL
History and Theory
Vol. 50, No. 1 (February 2011), pp. 1-19
Published by: Wiley for Wesleyan University
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/41300057
Page Count: 19
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PERFORMING HISTORY: HOW HISTORICAL SCHOLARSHIP IS SHAPED BY EPISTEMIC VIRTUES
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Abstract

Philosophers of history in the past few decades have been predominantly interested in issues of explanation and narrative discourse. Consequently, they have focused consistently and almost exclusively on the historian's (published) output, thereby ignoring that historical scholarship is a practice of reading, thinking, discussing, and writing, in which successful performance requires active cultivation of certain skills, attitudes, and virtues. This paper, then, suggests a new agenda for philosophy of history. Inspired by a "performative turn" in the history and philosophy of science, it focuses on the historian's "doings" and proposes to analyze these performances in terms of epistemic virtue. It argues that historical scholarship is embedded in "practices" or "epistemic cultures," in which knowledge is created and warranted by means of such virtues as honesty, carefulness, accuracy, and balance. These epistemic virtues, however, are not etched in stone: historians may highlight some of them, exchange one for another, or reinterpret their meaning. On the one hand, this suggests a rich area of research for historians of historiography. To what extent can consensus, conflict, continuity, and change in historical scholarship be explained in terms of epistemic virtue? On the other hand, the proposal outlined in this article raises a couple of philosophical questions. For example, on what grounds can historians choose among epistemic virtues? And what concept of the self comes with the notion of virtue? In addressing these questions, philosophy of history may expand its current scope so as to encompass not only "writings" but also "doings," that is, the virtuous performances historians recognize as professional conduct.

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