Historisk tidskrift 125:2 • 2005
Innehåll (Contents) 2005:2
Synlighet, vikt, trovärdighet – och självkritik. Några synpunkter
på källkritikens roll i dagens historieforskning
Summary: Visibility, Importance, Reliability, and Self-Criticism.
Observations on the Role of Source Criticism in Contemporary
The point of departure of this article is the allegedly declining
interest in the classical source-critical agenda, as it was formulated
by the so-called Weibull school in Sweden. The author discusses
ways in which source-critical insights can be rephrased, so that
their importance once again becomes obvious.
Like others before
her, she argues that many source-critical insights have the character
of common sense, or tacit, knowledge. However, the present author
sees this as a problem, because it downplays the fact that source
critical requirements are central to scientific history writing,
just as testing the validity of results is crucial to all empirical
sciences. Moreover, by reducing source criticism to mere common
sense it becomes difficult to talk about its necessity, and to
hand down source critical skills to new generations. Therefore,
she proposes that new concepts be introduced, in order to turn
central source-critical insights from tacit to manifest knowledge.
In particular, the author argues for the need to include ‘visibility’
among the source critical touchstones, as being the first and
possibly most important criterion against which sources should
be judged. We should always ask ourselves: Which parts of past
society are revealed by this particular source, and which parts
remain invisible? What kinds of conclusions does this source
allow us to draw? The author points out that, in principle, the
visibility criterion has long been known and used among historians;
it is often formulated as a warning against conclusions e silentio.
However, she contends that the criterion needs to be phrased
in a more general way, in order to make its importance apparent.
For instance, the ambition to write ”histoire totale” (Annales)
or the pursuit of ‘invisible history’ (from the 1970s and onwards)
require close attention to issues of visibility.
The author also
argues that even if the touchstone ”representativeness” seems
to have fallen out of grace, it nevertheless remains true that
historians have a special responsibility for assessing the relative
importance of various social phenomena in the past. If professional
historians shirk this responsibility, non-professional historians
will try to assess importance on their own, writing syntheses
that will put their imprint on textbooks used in schools, etc.
Therefore, if historians wish to retain influence over how ”the
grand narratives” are constructed and disseminated, they still
need to pay close attention to representativeness, or relative
Finally, the author argues for the need to coin a word for the
self-critical scrutiny to which all historians have to expose
themselves. Here, she proposes the word self-criticism.