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The Problem of Objectivity in History


Admission requirements

BA in Philosophy, or comparable level of knowledge


Scientific historiography is taken to be born after the mid 19th century when Ranke formulated his theory of history. The aim in scientific historiography was to write history ‘as it really happened’ and produce objective historical knowledge. However, since the early 1970s the narrativist turn in philosophy of history successfully questioned this ideal of objectivity. History is said to create narratives, such the ‘Industrial Revolution’ or the ‘Cold War,’ which do not correspond to anything in the past and cannot be evaluated in terms of their truthfulness and falsity. Although hardly any contemporary philosopher of history wishes to abandon rational evaluation of history, the post-narrativist philosophy of history has been left without a principled grounding and tools to enable this.

In this course, we will study the different kinds of answers that has been given to the problem of objectivity in the philosophy of history. We will be examining whether it is possible to defend the ideal of objectivity and rational evaluation of historical interpretations, while taking the insight of the narrativist philosophy of history into account.

Course objectives

Course objectives will be posted on Blackboard by the start of the course.


See Timetables Master’s Programmes 2010-2011

Mode of instruction

Seminar (lectures and seminar work)

Assessment method

  • Participation and activity (10%)

  • Seminar presentation (20%)

  • Final paper (70%)


Reading list

A selection of primary and secondary readings will be provided.


Please register for this course on uSis. See registration procedure

Exchange and Study Abroad students, please see the Study in Leiden website for information on how to apply

Contact information

Dr. J. Kuukkanen:


Specialisation: History and Philosophy of the Sciences