How Theory Acts as the Retrieval Apparatus in Methods

Historical Thoughts on Romanticized Intellectual Practices
Living reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


There is a romanticism of “methods.” The social scientist romanticizes measuring devices for the retrieval of the facts of the present. The historian romanticism is in the archive as the site where methods retrieve what is true, beautiful and the authentic. This chapter explores the faith and security in historical methods as historically ironic. The archive is not merely there to retrieve what is to understand as human life and change. The cultural principles generated in methods circulate to order the questions, selection and interpretations of what is constituted as “data.” Embodied in historical methods are styles of reasoning that produce principles by which judgments are made, conclusions drawn, and fields of existence made manageable. The romanticizing of methods elides how methods “act” to make facts as facts!

My argument focuses on the historical dangers of romanticizing methods as the quest to define the historian’s professional competence. To make methods as an autonomous subject empties history of history and erases the political of modernity by ignoring how the objects of reflection and action are produced and enacted. Yet recognizing how theory operates in methods as a determinant of what become “the facts” of the past is not necessarily bad; and the embodiment of styles of reasoning is not something that can be undone to enable the historian to find truth itself. Nor it is to underestimate the role of the archives for the work of the historians. But they do require continual scrutiny as part of professional competence.


History of science Historical epistemology Historical theory and method in educational history 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of Wisconsin-MadisonMadisonUSA

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