Puzzling Evidence (colloquium)
This was a monthly evening colloquium held from 1999 to 2000 and led by David Armitage and David Scott Kastan.
At least this truth we hold to be self-evident: that scholars in all fields use evidence, but that all evidence is not created equal. The early modern period was defined as "early" modern in part by the emergence of the category of evidence (and the condition of self-evidence) in fields as diverse as law, science, theology, and epistemology. The question of what counts as evidence was therefore central to the intellectual history of the period; it has also become central to the concerns of disciplines which have been distinguished as disciplines by virtue of the evidence they count as much as the wider methodologies they deploy. Through the lenses of its participants' work, this year-long series of evening colloquia explored the resilient differences between the disciplines in their definitions of evidence. Discussion optimally involved attention not only to the kinds of evidence that are now available but also to the larger question of what can most usefully count as evidence. Is a contemporary scholar's reading evidence in the same way that an original document is? Does a document become evidence because of its contemporaneity, or by virtue of the uses to which it is put? Do the terms "primary" and "secondary" have the same meaning in different disciplines? What are the protocols for handling different kinds of evidence and are they transferable, or even comparable? The answers to none of these questions are self-evident, but it should be clear that the attempt to grapple strenuously with them is perhaps the single most important effort in any disciplinary, interdisciplinary, counterdisciplinary, or transdisciplinary dialogue.
Directors: David Armitage is Associate Professor of History at Columbia University. He is the author of the forthcoming The Ideological Origins of the British Empire (2000), editor of Bolingbroke: Political Writings (1997) and of Theories of Empire, 1450-1800 (1998), and coeditor of Milton and Republicanism (1995).