The nature of history
The main goal of this article is to examine the nature of history and illustrate how individual historians can bring out different versions the same event which occurred within a given period of history. History, according to Michael Salevouris and Conal Furay is a branch of inquiry which seeks to achieve an accurate account and valid understanding of past events. Nevertheless, historians understand that the past is filled with great darkness and echoes such that they cannot always decode past events with adequate precision within the present day.
According to the author, there is no single and generally accepted historical version of America. Several versions exist which often conflict each other. For example, Hodding Carter III, who was the Assistant Secretary of State under the Presidency of Jimmy Carter, was quite aware at a very tender age that the American history which he was taught at the school in the South differed significantly from what was normally taught in the North. For instance, the history textbook which was being used in the South talked about the War Between the States, while the textbooks of the North talked about the Civil War. The author says that such controversies exist because people usually look at their history with a lot of seriousness such that they always become uncomfortable if their esteemed values and beliefs are challenged by history. This situation can even become more serious and explosive if historians attempt to explain and record more repulsive and embarrassing events about an individual’s national past.
The key question that the author seeks to address in this article is the exact definition of history. According to him, history is not the past itself. It is a version or an account of the past. He defines history as a series of objects, activities and events which people are involved in such as the books that people read, the films or television shows which they watch, the lectures that they listen to, the museum exhibits which they attend etc. He also defines it as the daily newspaper or the daily evening newscast. Nevertheless, history has got a different meaning in addition to being a version or an account of the past. One of the most renowned historians of our time called Barbara Tuchman defined history as past events which people are knowledgeable about. Therefore, the most significant information that the author is trying to put across is that historians can not directly infer what exactly happened in the past. They normally rely on records of events that are written by eyewitnesses and participants of such events. As such, history is actually not what occurred in the past; instead, it is the process of selecting, evaluating and writing down past events.
The key concepts that we need to understand from this article are: how historical accounts are created, the subjectivity and objectivity that exists in the study of history and the reasons why historians keep on rewriting history. The process of creating historical accounts is not an easy one. Historians are usually faced with two challenges while trying to create historical accounts. First, they are usually faced with the challenge of coming up with these accounts from an immense source of information. Secondly, the available information is mostly tarnished and incomplete. Therefore it is important to note that historical accounts are sometimes unrepresentative portions of the original events.
The wide gap that detaches historians from the past which they study, and the incomplete and flawed evidence which they are forced to use to create history leads to the important conclusion that almost all historical accounts are subjective to a certain extent. However, it is also important to note that the aspect of subjectivity does not render objective historical information invalid. In fact, objective evidence plays the most significant role in the creation of historical accounts.
There are several reasons that explain why historians keep on rewriting historical events. First and foremost, historical events can be rewritten if the new and valid information is discovered. Secondly, this can be done so as to reexamine the previous information from a new outlook since historians can interpret the same information differently as previously mentioned. Thirdly, historians also normally ask new questions about the past which call for different sorts of answers that seem more relevant. By these concepts, the author simply wants to reemphasize the fact that the nature of history is essentially complicated and that there may be many different historical versions of the same historical event.
The main inferences and conclusions that can be drawn from this article are the recognition that history entails the study of individual interpretations of past events, the realization that the process of creating historical events is quite complex, the realization that almost all historical accounts are subjective to some extent and that objective evidence also plays an important role in creation of historical accounts.
Only the discovery of new information makes it necessary to rewrite history: Disagree.
Given enough effort it is possible to discover the one true version of an event: Agree.
Historians interpret the past differently because they have different biases and values: Agree.
Since history is subjective, it can never teach us anything about the past: Disagree
Historians decide which facts are important to include in any account of the past: Agree.
Historians have an obligation, to tell the truth: Agree.