cover image Telling the Truth about History

Telling the Truth about History

Joyce Appleby. W. W. Norton & Company, $25 (322pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03615-2

Three historians here team up for a worthy, demanding foray into the battle over the academy, taking on ``both the relativists on the left and the defenders of the status quo ante on the right.'' The authors argue that skepticism and relativism about truth, in science, history and politics, stems from the democratization of American society and higher education. They survey the ``heroic model'' of science produced in the Enlightenment, the roots of relativism in Hegel, and the influence of Marx, Durkheim and Weber on latter-day historical schools. They tackle the virtuous mythologies of American history, and critiques by progressives like Charles Beard and post-WW II social historians. They also cite 1960s historians of science who launched politicized critiques and postmodernists who attacked claims of objectivity. The authors urge historians to have a ``stronger, more self-reflexive and interactive sense of objectivity.'' In a final chapter addressing ``political correctness'' and multiculturalism, the authors sensibly call for a middle ground, but diminish their message with a paucity of models. Appleby teaches at UCLA, Hunt at the University of Pennsylvania and Jacob at Manhattan's New School for Social Research. (Apr.)