First, the Important Stuff
Is it possible to approach history without theory? I think not. It is the existence of some sort of preexisting story or framework of understanding that we carry around in our heads which tells us that some given source is relevant data in the first place. Nor are these sorts of “common sense” frameworks usually unbiased. I have always had a preference for making any project’s basic assumptions known. Then again, my basic training is in the social sciences rather than history, so there may also be disciplinary issues at play.
Theory has two related functions in the production of history. It is most obvious to the reader when it is used to interpret past events, or to make causal inferences. On a more fundamental level, theories also direct our empirical research. As they spin out new concepts…
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