Immersed in economists’ writings, correspondence and diaries (when he is lucky), the historian sometimes spends more time with his subjects than with his closest relatives. He gets acquainted with their more intimate thoughts, with every nook and cranny of their temper. And as befits a family story, he develops his own preferences. He can’t help being repelled by the self-confidence and egocentrism of a scholar, or seduced by the wit and humanity of another (and God knows how important the wit is for a woman…).
But what if, reading the story of an economist’s intellectual development, five colleagues display the same reaction: “what an unpleasant person!” What if the various biographies by family members and the numerous testimonies by former colleagues all emphasize egocentrism and self-confidence, so that the historian is left wondering whether they should be part of the history of his subject’s scholarly work? Would he be accused of lousy psychologism if he underlines their influence?
Does the historian’s personal appreciation of his subjects endanger the value of the story he is telling? And is the right criterion to judge the value of such biographical work “detachment” or something else?