2000 Years of History

version française

Sources and Methods


In order to fully understand the evolution of relationships between man and wolf, historians must explain past phenomena, using their own tools and employing scientific methods. The apparent accessibility of historical documentation increases the risks of anachronism (the attribution of an identical meaning to past and present phenomena), distortion (incorrect or illogical interpretation of data from documents), or over-generalization (the tendency to exaggerate the applicability of isolated data and to make assertions without crosschecking sources). In the time that has passed between the 17th and the 21st centuries, unchanged word forms have acquired new meanings and some have come to denote different real-world entities. Economic, technical and social upheavals have had an undeniable impact upon the environment, making it vital to have a sound understanding of the spatio-temporal context. A very broad vision of the facts is therefore required, based on quantitative measurement and changes in analytical scope. These are the conditions in which the historian can contribute constructively to the public debate, and in which the public can find a solid foundation for thought.

Assessments of the wolf threat are, more than ever, compelled to explain the validation procedures used in research work. The widespread emotional impact of the wolf issue today requires a return to the fundamental characteristics of the discipline. In this respect, the subject offers an advantage: it forces us to look again at the criteria for validating historical truth.

Which sources should be used to carry out analyses? How far can they be trusted? How can their use be optimized? It is even more important to answer these questions given that with this subject, historians are venturing onto dangerous ground. For example, the very idea of a “man eating wolf,” aside from incidental cases of rabid animals, is subject to debate. A serious examination of the materials used is required. They are extremely diverse, and we can never be sure that we are taking everything into account, because references to the wolf presence are so scattered in documentation. Even looking specifically at man-eating wolves, we cannot claim to be exhaustive.