Working Around the Limitations of Biography

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Working Around the Limitations of Biography
There are many methods on how to research and record history, and historians worldwide will most likely never agree on one approach. Empiricism for instance, the historical school of thought that has been used by historians for almost 200 years, is both a theory of knowledge, an epistemology, as well as a method of historical enquiry.[1] The theory's followers argued that historians should only use primary sources, those that are created at the particular time of the event, and stressed the importance of remaining unbiased in research. But how undeniable and factual is the information found in original sources? And how can one truly remain objective? The reality is that forgeries are not confined to the medieval world and historical events are open to a multiplicity of interpretations.[2] Another problem with empiricism is that its focus is primarily on the individual and the politics of a specific time and region. Writing history in the form of a biography as such tends to lean towards the “Great Man” theory, emphasizing the role of a single person over broader socio-economic forces. Other historical schools of thought however have made it clear that the biography as a historic genre needs to seek out the individual as part of a social, economic, and ideological environment. But what if historians have to work around limitations encountered while writing a biography and emerge themselves in other sciences to support their case? When does it become acceptable to go beyond the traditional parameters of what is considered a historical source?

The Annales school of thought was named after the 1929 scholarly journal Annales d'histoire economique et sociale which was published by Mark Bloch and Lucien Febvre. Their intent was to promote a new approach to history by rejecting the traditional study of history, empiricism that is only concerned with politics and individuals, and instead broaden the world's focus with social...
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