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Checking the Evidence: The Judge & the Historian
Transcript of Checking the Evidence: The Judge & the Historian
By Carlo Ginzburg
* Relationship between history and law has been close for the last 2500 years.
* Within the classical period, historical writing had to display the ability to present a
compelling and vivid representation
of characters and events they studied.
* Lawyers and historians would make engaging and convincing arguments by
communicating false or simply misleading impressions
of reality or series of events.
* These arguments did
not reveal or exhibit proof.
* Evidence had a minute role in history because more emphasis was placed the dramatization of historical events.
*Edward Gibbon's book, titled the ‘Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire’ marked the
for the use evidence in the field of historiography.
*Historiography = the power to act and work like a court of justice. An accepted tribunal for all.
*This viewpoint was supported by many apparently as a
= A doctrine that states that the only authentic knowledge is scientific knowledge.
*By end of the 19th century, most historiography had developed within a court like atmosphere with emphasis on this positivist outlook.
A split occurred
Firstly this judicial model had a double impact on historiography.
1- Pushing historians to concentrate on events that were clear and easily described.
2- Rejected the value of people’s perceptions and experiences because there is no way to apply the positivist outlook on the concepts of social life and people’s mentalities.
What is Carlo Ginzburg saying?
1. The connections between the historian and the judge!
We explore if early historiography was essentially just a narrative? The absence of evidence.
2. How Ginzburg thought evidence be applied to historiography?
3. The emergence of the biography to tackle the historiography of the individual
4. The contemporary push towards a fictionalised history
5. Personal critiques
Other side to the split =
Push for dismissing factual history.
Historiography was now calling for an emphasis and analysis on
more deeply significant historical occurrences
that were not entirely conclusive and that may not have even occurred but displayed and described a social impact upon the mentalities of people and they're social lives.
The clear-cut connection that once lay between the two now has become more complicated.
Positivists tend to simply the relationship between evidence and reality.
The opposing view, held by the fierce critics of positivism, regard evidence as a wall that does not provide a complete picture of what occurred.
Essentially Ginzburg believes the opposition take for granted the relationship between evidence and reality.
All evidence = held up to the same through analysis.
This analysis should take into account its inherent distortions > any misleading or misrepresented the evidence may have given
This will inherently provide us with a more thoroughly accurate version of reality.
Ginzburg notes that if we are to reject positivism, it does not mean we abandon the notions of proof, reality and truth.
Initially, it is your task as historian and also as a judge to prove that an individual was present and the event occurred as a result.
Key difference between judge + historian = historical events that may not have occurred but this does not necessarily mean it becomes irrelevant or is dismissed because to the historian, it rather revels a large degree about the social mindset and history of the people of the time.
Historian and the judge = have had different aims.
Historians had previously analysed only issues concerned with the state and not the individual.
The state cannot be brought to court and so a judge cannot pass judgement upon them.
But now Ginzburg states, a ‘boarder line genre’ has emerged.
Bring to fruition the history of the individual as opposed to the state.
It is called the
Biography has its limits = as a biography is a history of a single individual but cannot place It in context of the full historical background.
With the balance in power between state and its people shifted more towards the masses, came the need to document the lives of the everyday masses.
Social history, a history of the collective, was too slow in developing. Historians turned towards biography.
This genre now brought together evidence and the imagination to bring to life the history of the every day man.
Final fundamental shift has occurred
This has brought forth the debate about history and fiction.
We now have once again shifted, to where contemporary historians incorporate an imaginative and evidential retelling of history to bring about totally unique and insightful reality.
This shift has come about due to the enormous interest in social history and due to the lack of evidence in regards to the lives of the every day man.
Historians must combine this imaginative approach with as much evidence as they can gather, which unfortunately can be very limited.
In part one= fantastic opening paragraph that provides a good underlying statement about the lack of evidence used during classical period towards positivism outlook.
In part two = He almost presents a vision where he expects historian to come together to create a mandatory framework for checking evidence.
An ideal notion but not a realistic goal.
In part three= A biography does incorporate a historical dimension (the individuals history) so should it not be considered a borderline genre but rather just a faction of history itself?
In part four = do we think history should be factual, reverting back to the historian being almost like the judge or should it be fictional? I personally believe there should be a mixture of both.
Perhaps the real issue is with evidence, that evidence is not as available when it comes to writing history about the individual and so historians are forced to take a more narrative and imaginative approach.