Historians disrespect excessively eisegetic readings when producing their works. Eisegesis is the production of meaning in reading texts through external inspiration. The inspiration could be divine, or based in theory, but definitively the inspiration lies outside of the documents of the past which are read together. Eisegesis is the reading of external meanings into texts. This is to say for the lay person that historians disrespect works that make the past serve a meaning or “truth.” Instead historians attempt exegetical readings. (Eisegesis’ comparison method is exegesis. Exegesis is the process of reading meanings out of texts.)
There is a problem though, in that there are gaps all over the place in documents. We read “into” texts that the sun came up tomorrow, that the seasons turned if the texts were from a land of seasons. We assume that institutions separated only by time, but named the same, stayed largely the same outside of noted textual differences. In other words, in order to read texts we have to read meanings into texts. This is known as “the hermeneutical gap,” the distance between the reader and the text where meanings can’t be determined to standards of Capital T Truth in Hume’s sense. As empirical knowledge, we never have certainty or security in the meanings of texts: to some extent we always read meanings into texts (you and I are both doing it right now).
One difference between tolerated eisegesis, and intolerable eisegesis, seems to be scale. Claims that history serves the teleology—the necessary end point of history—of the triumph of liberal parliament (Whig theory), or that crudely determined modes of production dictate all past activity (Stalinist “diamat,” outside of its Great Russian chauvinism) are not tolerated. Claims that Winston Churchill retained his character between one diary entry and another are accepted. In the middle are questions such as “Does EP Thompson’s English working class exist?,” or “Was there such a thing as the United States,” or “Is ‘men and women’ meaningful about gender in 14th century Italy, and do Italian cultures or Gender exist?”
Is it just that all teleological work is unacceptable? Is it only a matter of scale? And if so what is the tipping point? Is it a matter of something else? Or can a preponderance of exegetical work turn an unacceptable volume of evidence into acceptable for a theoretical claim?