1st Edition

Historical Narratives Constructable, Evaluable, Inevitable

By Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum Copyright 2024

    This book explains some of the psychological processes that go into narrative construction and why it is that we have so much variability of historical accounts about a single historical event. A central focus of this book is how historians go from having unconnected units of data to having a coherent, structured, and organized flow of experiences. The author argues that the way these connections are established responds to certain Gestalt psychological principles that allow us to understand not only how histories are constructed but also how this construction can be rather different depending on how these principles are applied. To illustrate how these principles are present in histories, the author analyzes classic historical writers such as Burckhardt, Huizinga, Vico, and Marx.

    As well as an explanation of why historical multiplicity happens, the book also offers a way to evaluate different historical narratives about the same historical event. To illustrate how the evaluative framework is at play, the author analyzes two views about the so-called discovery of America. The first one explains what happens in 1492 by using the term "discovery." The second one uses the notion of "invention" to talk about the same set of circumstances. The book provides an important epistemic tool to evaluate these different accounts—one that can be applied not only to this case but also others.

    This book appeals to scholars, graduate students, and upper-level undergraduate students of history and philosophy. In addition, the book may also attract intellectuals, generally considered, who are interested in how philosophy can inform and question historical practice.

    1. Naturalizing Narratives: Gestalt Principles and Narrative Construction 2. There is no God-eye view. The world is in many different ways 3. Rethinking Historical Aspects: A critique 4. Seeing As in Historical Narratives 5. Understanding vs Knowledge. A Framework for Narrative Evaluation 6. Historical Narratives as Instances of Understanding 7. The debate about a certain encounter: discovery or invention? 8. Conclusions


    Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Philosophical Research at UNAM (National Autonomous University of Mexico). She obtained her PhD in philosophy at UC Santa Cruz in 2021. Mariana is interested in the field of philosophy of history and social sciences. She is particularly concerned with detailing the epistemic value of narratives and how they enhance our understanding of the world. Her research focuses on questions such as: Why can we have many interpretations of a single historical event? What type of meaning-making activity is history? How can we evaluate historical discourses? Which normative criteria that apply to historiography have features in common with science or art? How does narrative allow us to understand our own identity?

    Some of her latest publications include: Principles of Narrative Reason (2021), Beyond Truth: an epistemic normativity for historiography (2022), and Rethinking Historical Aspects (2023).

    Historical Narratives won the “2024 Best First Book” prize of the International Commission of Theory of History and the International Network for Theory of History.

    "In this original philosophy of history book, Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum shows the persistent relevance of narrative in historical explanations and the cognitive principles that underlie narrative construction. Appealing to Gestalt psychology she finds the bases for a reunion between narrative and rationality. The book presents actual historical cases to illustrate the subject and makes it useful and attractive to historians."

    Verónica Tozzi, Department of Philosophy, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina.


    "Analytical philosophy of history is back. Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum successfully recovers the importance of narrative in historical explanation. The book offers a non-reductionist, naturalized account of historical narratives and proposes an innovative theory of narrative construction and evaluation. Must read for scholars interested in postnarrativist approaches, historical realism as well as relations between narratives and rationality, knowledge and understanding, history and aesthetics. The book develops a very novel positive account of history, one that sketches a non-determined and open future, a future that allows us the opportunity to reinvent ourselves."

    Ewa Domańska, Professor of Human Sciences, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland.


    "Through a series of thoughtful and original philosophical and historiographical analyses, Mariana Imaz-Sheinbaum sheds much needed light on the principles guiding historians' work, exposing the inner workings of narrativization and reaffirming its cognitive inevitability. A timely reminder of the radical potential of thorough and careful scholarship!

    With this series of thoughtful and genuinely fresh philosophical and theoretical analyses, she exposes the inner workings of narrativization and reaffirms its cognitive inevitability. This deep dive into the principles guiding historians' work provides a timely reminder of the radical potential of careful scholarship!"

    Kalle Pihlainen, Department of Philosophy, History and Art Studies, University of Helsinki, Finland.