Archival Intimacies: Empathy and Historical Practice in 2023

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (journal)peer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)


This article explores the use of empathy in historical research. Using evidence collected from a number of academic historians working in UK higher education institutions in 2022, this article uses empathy as a window into historians’ attitudes towards the professional self, the appearance of objectivity and their relationship to the historical subject. It explores the role of empathy in learning history, teaching history, in historical research including the selection of sources, and in the communication of historical research to different audiences. It discusses empathetic historical approaches, suggesting that these can be categorised into three distinct taxonomies: historical empathy, where the researcher engages with the historical subject using professional detachment to manage their affective response; historicised empathy, where the researcher employs deep knowledge of historical context to understand and appreciate the worldview of their historical subject; and empathy as historical approach, so person-centred (rather than system-centred) accounts of history. Finally, this article tests its hypotheses by exploring histories in which empathy is absent.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)241-265
Number of pages25
JournalTransactions of the Royal Historical Society
Early online date7 Aug 2023
Publication statusPublished - 7 Aug 2023


  • Empathy
  • eighteenth century
  • archive
  • historical methodology
  • letters


Dive into the research topics of 'Archival Intimacies: Empathy and Historical Practice in 2023'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this