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That Noble Dream & Historical Objectivity

Peter Novick writes in That Noble Dream about the idea that every group is its own historian, and he indicates that one of the central tenets of the norm of historical objectivity has been the idea of "universalism," meaning that truth was the same for all peoples and so was also accessible to all:

Particularist commitments--national, regional, ethnic, religious, ideological--were seen as enemies of objective truth. They had to be transcended if unitary truth was to be approached.

However, Novick perceives a particularist backlash, as it were, which has challenged universalist assumptions about cognitive style and modes of discourse, and this is seen in various writings on issues which have generated a particularist form of discourse or particularist literature, such as issues of race or gender:

Turn-of-the-century racists had asserted that blacks were naturally subjective, whites objective. The popular belief that women were naturally intuitive while men were analytic has a long history. These were propositions which Negroes and women in the academy had scornfully repudiated as racist or sexist slanders. Enlightened egalitarians had consistently maintained that the approved academic cognitive style, including all the elements which went to make up objectivity, was uncorrelated with color or gender.

A consideration of what Novick has to say about this point of view and the historical approaches it and its opposite have engendered is analyzed here in terms of the historical perspective offered by several writers, including Henretta and Nobles in their Evolution and Revolution: American Society 1600-1820 and Olson and Roberts in their Where the Domino Fell: America and Vietnam, 1945-1990.

Novick examines the development of these perspectives in different historical writings and addresses the issues especially as they relate to the subjects of blacks and women. Black and female historians are considered in terms of...

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That Noble Dream & Historical Objectivity. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 08:28, February 18, 2019, from