Historisk Tidskrift. Utgiven av Svenska historiska föreningen
  Hem Aktuellt  Tidigare nummer Bli Medlem  Annonsera Om Historisk Tidskrift  För skribenter  Föreningen In English

Historisk tidskrift 136:3 • 2016

Innehåll (Contents) 2016:3

Uppsatser (Articles)

Var ligger historikerns ansvar? Benny Morris och Ilan Pappé om forskningspraxis, ångerpolitik och frågan om en ansvarsfull relation till det israeliska samhället

Natan Elgabsi

Fulltext (pdf)


To whom are historians responsible? Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé on research-praxis, politics of regret, and the question of a responsible relation to the Israeli society

The question of historians’ responsibility is often discussed in a general manner and answered with a meta-ethical recommendation how the historian should work in order to act responsibly toward past and present people. The historians’ research praxis, which demands that a scholar should do justice to the sources she or he investigates on ”the past’s own terms”, is usually regarded as a responsible way of relating to past life-worlds. Likewise, the theoretical frameworks of politics of regret or reparations politics, which imply that the present society should do the past justice by ”coming to terms with the past” in the present, are also regarded as ways of acting responsibly. However, these two praxices rest on two epistemologically conflicting ideas of historical science. This conflict is evident in Israeli society.

Through a case study of the Israeli historiographical debate between the so-called new historians, Benny Morris and Ilan Pappé, ideas of researchpraxis and politics of regret are investigated. This debate is guided by ideas of responsibility tied to the aforementioned conflicting ideas of historical science. Morris claims that sticking to facts will automatically imply responsibility. Pappé claims that writing an apologetic, pro-Palestinian, and anti-Israeli discourse, will automatically imply responsibility. The article claims that both these ideas are misguided with regard to the question of responsibility. On the one hand, they invite one to choose between them. Responsibility becomes tied either to the objective investigation of the past, or to a political reality in the present. On the other hand, they suggest responsibility in all situations, without asking what a given historiographical practice actually means in the particular social contexts that give it meaning. Instead, the argument says either that objective history is responsible and politicised history is irresponsible, as Morris argues, that post-Zionist history is responsible and Zionist history is irresponsible as Papé argues. This is a problematic way of dealing with responsibility in historical science.

The article argues that the question of responsibility, or what the scholar should do to be responsible toward past and present people, must not take the form of a choice between the past and the present. It claims that: 1) Being responsible does not automatically follow from the epistemological framework or praxis which the historian chooses to adapt. 2) That responsibility itself does not imply a choice of whom or what one should and should not take into account. The debate is therefore confused. We need to move beyond the idea of choice to ask which relations to past and present people a certain historiographical argument suggests in a particular social context. To decide beforehand what an argument means, on scientific or political criteria, neglects this question. This is the case with Morris and Pappé. Both traditional and ideology-critical historians have to expand their boundaries to make the question of responsibility relevant.


Responsibility, Benny Morris, Ilan Pappé, historians’ research praxis, politics of regret, post-Zionism