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Disagreement in historical research

Isabel Antón Solanas
MSc in Nursing Studies, PhD Student. Manchester (United Kingdom)

Mail delivery: Ashburne Hall (MWA1). Old Hall Lane. Fallowfield. M14 6HP. Manchester (United Kingdom)

Manuscript acepted by  20.11.2006

Temperamentvm 2006; 4




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Antón Solanas I. Disagreement in historical research. Temperamentvm 2006; 4. In </temperamentum/tn4/t807e.php> Consulted


     It has been longer than a year since I wrote for Temperamentvm's first issue about "History's dynamic dimension", where the importance of historical research for the nursing profession was highlighted, the need to study the past as a base from which to sustain the present and build the future of our profession was addressed, and the importance of understanding the concept of historical research as a dynamic process, always open to further developments, was discussed.1
     It was precisely through the definition of the concept of historical research as the systematic question about the past,
2 that the past itself acquired a new, interesting dimension for the historian. It became changing and exciting, and able to offer a new perspective to every subject of historical research. Therefore, three factors were identified that contributed to provide the study of the past with a dynamic dimension:
     - The changing nature of historical research's theories and methodologies, as long as these are always rigorously applied.
     - The more or less continuous emergence of new sources of research, both primary and secondary.
     - The presence of an interpretative factor in the process of historical analysis.
     As a result, once accepted the fact that the commonly known history might yet be subject to change, either due to the finding of new primary sources of information, or because of the application of a different research methodology to the already existing ones, it must also be accepted the possibility of emergence of differences and disagreement between historians in relation to particular historical questions.
     There are certain chapters of the past about which there is hardly any possible discussion, and that have been verified and generally and unanimously accepted, for example: "Christopher Columbus discovered America in 1492", or, another statement closer to my own area of research: "The Spanish nurses took an active part in both factions during the Spanish Civil War". However, there also exist other historical questions which might be, no doubt, subjected to factors such as the personal subjectivity of the historian, the historical sources available to him during the research, or the methodology applied in the data analysis and the subsequent interpretation and discussion of the results. For example, in relation to the second statement of the previous case: "Nursing care at the field hospitals of the governmental army was worse than nursing care at the same type of establishments in the area of Franco's army", or: "The foreign nurses attached to the International Brigades enjoyed a higher professional status than the Spanish nurses".
     Probably, none of the first two statements deserved a second thought from the reader, being accepted more or less immediately. However, it is also likely that at least one of the two second statements remained for a sew seconds in the minds of more than one historian, exciting his or her curiosity about the past, considering its veracity or falseness, maybe reflecting on the information available to them at this very moment and, almost without realising it, formulating a first hypothesis, either for or against the affirmation.
     At this point of the discussion, I would like to mention that it is not at all my intention to start a conflict in the area of historical research, or to deny the possibility of getting to know the past. Rather the contrary. Of course it is possible to uncover the past. Furthermore, anyone who has devoted him or herself to this task will agree that it is as exciting as it is gratifying. Never should a historian stop enquiring about the past, even when facing the weight of the existing evidence; never should his curiosity about history be diminished before the results of an investigation that others did before him; never should his personal disagreement with another piece of work's results and conclusions, remain limited to his own personal opinion, and hidden to the rest of the scientific community. Because personal qualities such as curiosity, and the emergence of situations of disagreement and diversity of opinions, are two factors capable of propitiating new discoveries about the past, or about any other area of scientific research. This is how we will advance in the uncovering of the past of our profession.
     In order to support this idea, I will add that it is not only applicable to the research of the history of nursing, but also to Research in capital letters. Thesis which were considered as fixed and absolutely inalterable, have been questioned and modified before. Maybe it was their curiosity, encouraged by certain personal disagreement with the general opinion, as well as their indisputable genius, which helped researchers such as Nicolaus Copernicus or Galileo Galilei to dispute, and reject, the, until then, commonly accepted geocentric model, or Michael Servetus and William Harvey to discover pulmonary circulation.
     Always rigorously respecting the procedures of selection and interpretation of the sources, as well as the presentation of the final results
3-4, we must try to dare to be curious, to keep inquiring about the past. We must look for new historical sources able to expand, modify and, why not, change the present knowledge about the history of nursing. And if, by any chance, disagreement does appear about a particular issue, we must try to reshape it into a constructive dialogue, whose only objective is to help to uncover one more chapter of our past. What other purpose could historical research have if not this one.


1. Antón Solanas I. Sobre el sentido dinámico de la Historia. Temperamentvm 2005; 1. Available: </temperamentum/1revista/a0121.php> Accessed on 13th November 2006.
2. McDowell B. Historical research. A guide. London: Longman, 2002.
3. Brundage A. Going to the Sources. A Guide to Historical Research and Writing. Arlington Heights, Illinois: Harlan Davidson, 1989.
4. Rees C, Howells G. Historical research: Process, problems and pitfalls. Nursing Standard, 1999; 13(27): 33-35.

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