The Autonomy of History: Truth and Method from Erasmus to Gibbon

In these essays, Joseph M. Levine shows how the idea and method of modern history first began to develop during the Renaissance, when a clear distinction between history and fiction was first proposed. The new claims for history were met by a scepticism in a debate that still echoes today. Levine's first three essays discuss Thomas More's preoccupation with the distinction between history and fiction; Erasmus's biblical criticism and the contribution of Renaissance philology to critical method; and the way in which Renaissance rhetoric, as in Thomas Elyot's Book of the Governor , continued to inhibit the autonomy of history. He then shows how these issues persisted into the 18th century, even as critical method developed. He concludes with a close description of the great controversy that culminated in Edward Gibbon's day over the authenticity of a biblical text that had been used for centuries to defend the Trinity but which turned out to be a forgery. Levine shows how by then all sides were ready to concede the autonomy of history.