This podcast, by Samantha-Jayne Oldfield was delivered as part of a collection of papers on aspects of coaching and sport in an international conference titled Sports and Coaching: Pasts and Futures hosted by Manchester Metropolitan University’s Institute for Performance Research in June 2011. The full collection of papers were later published in book form, please click here for more details and purchase information 



All historians, throughout their careers, confront the ways in which the history of their particular era and region is written…Methodologies, approaches to the sources, even the kinds of sources privileged have changed over time, compelling us to reassess how we think about the past, how and what we read as sources, and where we locate our scholarship in the historiographical and methodological continuum (Mitchell, 2010: 1).

History is a social science which considers ‘events’ and ‘facts’ of the past in the present, and does so through constantly evolving theories and methodologies (White, 1984; Carr, 2001). Historical research is a contested arena, as historical knowledge is continually developing and there is no set structure to the way it should be recorded (Fullbrook, 2002). Historians examine and contest issues such as how war was fought, what Ancient Rome looked like, and who were the true heroes/villains by exposing cracks in the literature but they themselves are reporting from a particular perspective which further fuels these disputes (Mitchell, 2010). The growth of higher education in the twentieth century has acted as a catalyst, encouraging the emergence of a diverse range of historical perspectives, approaches and understandings which deviate from traditional historical narratives (Iggers, 2005), causing a conflict in the historical pursuit for truth (Fullbrook, 2002).

There are different types of historian, each adopting diverse perspectives, strategies and theories within the social science domain (Duff and Johnson, 2002), however Roberts (2006: 704) argues that narrative is ‘the central defining practice of History as a discipline’, linking historians together through the construction of story. In narrative research, there are several viewpoints that the historian needs to consider, with the empirical-postmodern debate fuelling the majority of philosophical disputes. Empirical researchers suggest that surviving sources of the past are interrogated, pieced together systematically and presented to form a well-rounded explanation which can be tested (Feverabend, 1995), being a cumulative process which is revised and enriched over generations (Hutton, 2009), whereas the interpretation of ‘facts’ is central to postmodernist debate, many whom deny the existence of truth and explain reality as an interpretation of what the world means to each individual (Jenkins, 2002). This perspective is sceptical of science and epistemological justifications, suggesting that every historian’s experience of society will come before the evidence, and as a result, history is fictional and, therefore, cannot be trusted. Narrative approaches have struggled to gain acceptance with empirical traditionalists who believe that the interaction of the scholar with the sources causes a distorted history (Alvermann, 2002) and postmodern theorists propose that historians, through their narratives, impose history, producing verbal fictions that even the most empirical chronicler employs to structure their research (Munslow, 1997a; 1997b; 2006; Jenkins, 2003). The traditional empiricist would argue that, in relation to narrative, history is based on physical evidence which has been collected and objectively discussed (Mandelbaum, 2001), whereas the modern empiricist, who is more sensitive to the postmodern stance, would suggest that, while there is a need to engage and identify with the information, imagination and inventiveness are crucial to creating a solid narrative (Elton, 2002; Fullbrook, 2002). Although postmodernists believe that this identification with the evidence encourages a modified and idealistic historical undercurrent, turning fact into fiction (Lustick, 1996), the interpretive-empirical approach is defended by Evans (2000) and Stone (1983) who insist that theoretical models can be used to recreate a ‘real past’ and guide narratives towards the truth, even though truth itself is subjective…… To listen to the rest of the paper – press play below:


Article © Samantha-Jayne Oldfield