The Task of World History

Jerry H. Bentley

in The Oxford Handbook of World History

Published in print March 2011 | ISBN: 9780199235810
Published online September 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in History

The Task of World History


This article argues that professional historical scholarship has suffered from a number of serious problems from its beginnings to the present day. Yet, in the absence of any alternative approach capable of achieving absolute objectivity or yielding perfect knowledge, professional historical scholarship, in spite of its problems, is the most reliable, most responsible, and most constructive mode of dealing with the past. The world's peoples have more commonly relied on myth, legend, memory, genealogy, song, dance, film, fiction, and other approaches as their principal and preferred guides to the past. Granting that these alternative ways of accessing and dealing with the past wield enormous cultural power, it is clear also that they do not readily open themselves to critique, revision, or improvement. Professional historical scholarship by contrast approaches the past through systematic exploration, rigorous examination of evidence, and highly disciplined reasoning.

Keywords: historical scholarship; myth; historical critique; cultural power; intellectual credibility

Article.  7381 words. 

Subjects: History ; Methods and Historiography

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