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History as Science: The Fifteenth-Century Debate in Arabic and Persian

In: Journal of Early Modern History
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In the fifteenth century, scholars writing in Arabic and Persian debated the nature of historical inquiry and its place among the sciences. While the motivations and perspectives of the various scholars differed, the terms and parameters of the debate remained remarkably fixed and focused, even as it unfolded across a vast geographic space between Herat, Cairo, and Constantinople. This article examines the contours of this debate and the relationships between five historians working on these issues. Although the scholars who considered these questions frequently arrived at different conclusions, they all firmly agreed, in contrast to previous doubt regarding the status of history, that historical inquiry did indeed constitute a distinct science requiring its own particular method. Accordingly, the debate and its conclusions helped cement the place of history within the broader pantheon of the sciences as conceived by scholars in the Ottoman Empire from the sixteenth century onwards.

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