Book Review: The Landscape of History

Short Paper: The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past by John Lewis Gaddis

Annotation

John Lewis Gaddis is the Robert A. Lovett Professor of Military and Naval History at Yale University. Throughout his book, The Landscape of History, he uses the language of science to describe how historians approach their subjects and seeks to determine whether history is, in fact, a science. Gaddis acknowledged the foresight of both Carr and Bloch in their arguments about history as a science and said that they, “anticipated certain developments in the physical and biological sciences that have brought those disciplines closer than they once were to what historians had been doing all along.”[1]He explained that the key to the scientific method is experimentation, with the goal of replicating the result to prove its veracity. This, he notes, cannot be accomplished with history because one can’t go back in time to replicate the conditions which existed in the past. But, a historian can virtually replicateevents by representing reality in narrative form, illuminating the causes leading to and through the event so that others can better understand the causes and possible outcomes.[2]Through this virtual replication, he confirms, history islike science.

Application

Contrary to Gaddis, Carr placed greater emphasis on the person of the historian and their place in society, stating that this will influence how they write. About morality, Gaddis diverged from Carr and Bloch’s view that historians should abstain from making moral judgements. He stated that “historians have no choice but to make moral judgements.”[3]He acknowledged that it is unrealistic to assume that historians can be completely objective when they, themselves, are influenced by the time and place in which they live. He instead suggests that the historian should “distinguish the engagement explicitly” in his/her writing.[4]

Gaddis seeks to further elucidate Carr’s proposition that history and science share some common threads especially as more scientific discoveries are made and historians rely on other scientific fields, such as anthropology and sociology to complete their work. Historians, and scientists, begin their research or experimentations with curiosity. With the advent of the Enlightenment, science has done more than other fields with regard to eliciting agreement about our physical world across cultures, languages and societies. So, too does history, in a sense. Historians seek to build upon each other’s work; refining arguments, reinterpreting and rerunning experiments to write new narratives or illuminate events in different and innovative ways.

Citation

Gaddis, John Lewis. The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.

[1]John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), xi.

[2]Gaddis, 43.

[3]Gaddis, 126.

[4]Gaddis, 128.