Two Sides of the Same Coin: Historical Source Criticism and Media Literacy

Monday, November 4, 2019

HUM 330 15:00 - 17:00

Dr. David Černin (University of Ostrava, Czech Republic) discusses "Two Sides of the Same Coin: Historical Source Criticism and Media Literacy"


“Historical narratives, theories, or representations do influence our lives, decision making, and value judgements. That much has been true since ancient times and, furthermore, it might be even more pressing in our current era. This lecture consists of two parts: a) a brief historical overview of the philosophy of history with particular focus on the role of ideology in historical writing; and b) an attempt to utilise the findings of philosophy of history in sketching a different view of historical inquiry that highlights critical aspects of historical methodology, which could be passed on by historical representations taught in schools and shown by various types of media in order to enhance media literacy of the public.

The original Anglo-American philosophy of history stems from the philosophical reflections of the abuse of historical knowledge during the first half of the 20th century and from an attempt to restrict historical methodology according to the model of natural sciences. This attempt was made by an immigrant philosopher, who has experienced the rise of nationalist ideology and whose article has sparked the discussion that lasts to this day - Carl G. Hempel. Other significant philosophers, who left their homeland, have felt the urge to address coercing nature of historical narratives may include, e.g., Karl Popper or Ernest Gellner.

However, this original motivation disappeared from the professional discourse in the following years. Works of the narrativist philosophers came together with the linguistic turn in philosophy of history. Especially Hayden White put forward a different view of the role of ideology in the texts of historians. White defines ideology as something positive and necessary for producing historical output that answers the questions of present readers. During its heyday, narrativist philosophy of history succeeded in describing the essential aspects of historical writing (e.g., the plurality of historical interpretations), while dismissing the interest in the methodology of historical research as secondary for philosophers. Their approach is often criticised by other philosophers whose approach is more akin to the philosophy of science (e.g., Aviezer Tucker, Murray G. Murphey, L. J. Goldstein).

Contemporary philosophers of history, including Jouni-Matti Kuukkanen or Paul A. Roth, stress the importance of professional historical discourse and practices, modes of argumentation, and constructivist nature of historiography. Thus, the ideological beliefs of historians and their audience lurk in the background of their conceptions. However, how should we treat the role of ideology in historical accounts facing current political and social climate, that some theoreticians termed post-truth era? This paper aims to combine the ideas that run through the entire debate and propose a specific view of historical inquiry that stresses the similarities between the historical methodology and media literacy as required from the public today. A possible implementation of the given philosophical conception into the education system is briefly sketched. It is argued that a historian confronting two fragmentary and contradictory sources is in a similar situation as a person who needs to distinguish between two conflicting news reports today.”

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Last updated: 26.9.2019