New College of the Humanities

Where Does History Come From?

Alun Munslow argues that the centrality of narrative to history undermines empirical views of the subject.

Where does history come from? This may seem like an odd question. Surely history comes from the traces of the past that historians find in their sources? However, we might get a different answer if we put the question in another way. What happens if we choose to view history as what, from one perspective at least, it plainly is: a narrative written about the past constructed by the historian in the present? This is clearly not the way history is conventionally defined. To be technical for a moment, it is more usually described as an empirical and analytical undertaking – a source-based and inferential activity concerned with the study of change over time. I am posing this question – where does history come from? – because I think historians still tend to ignore the role of narrative in doing history.

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