The network will focus on the uses of history in eight subject areas: economics, political science, political theory, international relations, sociology, philosophy, law and literature. Its participants have been selected for their expertise within their designated fields along with their active preoccupation with the character of historical knowledge. This combination will enable the contributors to examine three essential questions: (i) What is the function of historical research within their own disciplines? (ii) What are the connections linking these diverse modes of historical inquiry? (iii) What, therefore, is the purpose of historical study as such?
Historicism as an approach to understanding the world emerged in various areas of humanistic study in the sixteenth century, and continued to conquer a range of disciplines over the next few hundred years: philology, jurisprudence, political science, economics, belle lettres, and moral philosophy. By the end of the nineteenth century in Germany, historicism had come to be seen as a precondition for any form of knowledge whatsoever. However, the success of the research methods associated with the natural sciences in the twentieth century, combined with the spread of positivism and the progress of specialisation, have led to a fragmentation of purpose within the humanities and social sciences, and various forms of polarisation between theoretical and historical understanding. The overriding objective of this project is to undo these polarities, ascertain the limits of historical reasoning, and reconnect the historical profession with the fundamental questions that animate adjacent disciplines.
The expected gains of historical research are multifarious, and are both substantive and methodological in nature. Each payoff deserves separate and detailed treatment, yet even a list of the primary benefits gives an outline sense of the advantages proposed. For instance, history helps to show us how behaviour has been conditioned, how choices are constrained by the limited options available, and how far outcomes are not the product of deliberately intended goals. Equally it demonstrates how cultural processes are mutually interdependent, and how meanings and values are determined by their contexts. Historical study also offers a paradigmatic illustration of how causal analysis can be conducted in the domain of the human sciences; how anachronism and prolepsis thwart context-sensitive analysis; how the value of impartiality serves the objective of rigour; how the study of human values differs from the treatment of natural objects; how critical procedures should be employed in the evaluation of evidence; and how competing pieces of evidence should be judiciously weighed.
Our goal in pursuing this collaboration is to show how these insights have made and continue to make positive contributions across the humanities and social sciences. Cumulatively, our joint effort is designed to show how the forms of historical practice just outlined constitute vital assets across the human sciences. This network therefore amounts to an experiment in thinking historically about diverse domains of inquiry. We hope to encourage a paradigm shift in how we approach many of the problems faced in our sample disciplines. Our objective is to make plain the dividends that can be expected to flow from such an undertaking. In short, we propose to set out the intellectual advantages that can be expected from a new historical turn in the human sciences.