The Behavioral Approach to Diplomatic History - Some purposes of historical research

One way to examine those possibilities would be in the context of the various purposes and goals that diplomatic historians might set for themselves. For some, the purpose of research is to locate and present the facts alone: What happened, in what sequence, under what conditions, and who was involved? Others go a step further and try to put those facts into graceful narrative. More typically, we seek not only to tell the story, but to do so in an interpretive fashion. This involves both a selection from among all the facts and an interpretation of them. In interpretive history, once we are persuaded as to the facts, we make certain inferences from them: causes, motives, and likely consequences, as well as missing facts.

Some historians (even some diplomatic historians) consider these missions too modest, and tend to be more ambitious. Among these, there are the "grand theorists," who offer up wide-ranging interpretations of several sets of events, telling us just what it all means, in terms reaching from the plausible to the outrageous. A growing number are, however, beginning to redefine their mission, albeit in a less pretentious direction. Instead of offering sweeping inferences from a limited and selected set of facts, these historians are moving toward the generation of knowledge that may be not only more complex, but more useful than that to which we have been accustomed.

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