View Full Version : History and How We "Know"
There is something called historical evidence - there is something called the historical method - and if you look around the shelves of bookshops there is a lot of history being published, and people mistake this type of history for the real thing. These kinds of books do appeal to an enormous audience who believe them to be 'history', but actually they aren't history, they are a kind of parody of history. Alas, though, I think that one has to say that this is the direction that history is going today’ - Robert McCrum.This quotation is apparently based in an article criticizing the book, The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail (Jonathan Cape 1982). The apparent spirit of the quotation could easily be championed equally by those who subscribe to the writings of the likes of Howard Zinn OR by people who subscribe to the likes of Glenn Beck. What, to you, is the import of Mr. McCrum’s remark?
01-13-2011, 10:37 PM
You're quite right Mike, that Robert McCrum was using that quotation to criticise Holy Blood, Holy Grail and there is a reason why I have that as a signature.
In 2008, I finished reading Foucault's Pendulum and, in 2009 I wrote a paper on the myths that surrounded the Templars. As I started digging further and further, I noticed a pattern. If a conspiracy theorist made a wild claim, his 'evidence' was supported by a book or paper, yet none of these were peer-reviewed or even a part of the academic stream. None were by proper historians, let alone researched persons. When I came across that quote, something clicked to me. People are not interested in the reality of history, people are interested in a reality that suits their outlook. The lines between fiction and non-fiction slowly blurred, especially if put in an historical context. The majority of people who write these 'histories' aren't really doing it out of any pursuit of higher knowledge, they are doing so out of a pursuit of higher income. Why? Because they know that what they write will appeal to an audience who will buy it.
So a lot of written history is not 'history', but merely a parody. A fictional story which may or may not be a good premise for a game but not for what we teach and what we learn.
Yes, to varying degrees (even among highly trained individuals) the tendency to choose a reality, a history that suits one's pre-conceived paradigm is nearly universal--we see what we want to see and we hear what we want to hear. Here in the United States, an unfortunate product of this tendency can be found in public school history textbooks where school children receive a diluted, compacted, homogenized version of events--this perhaps in the name of inspiring a feeling of national pride and sense of combined heritage. (This is not unique to the U.S.) The result is that without an innate drive to ask questions or to question authority the majority of these students quickly become bored, their eyes glaze over as do their minds. This continues into adulthood where all too many continue to behave as some members of this forum have pointed out other threads. Thus a part of the citizenry accept every "wind of doctrine" coming from the mouths of pundits and politicians who pander to ideological and emotional stirrings.
On the other hand, the same environment provides fertile ground for reactionary or revisionist stirrings. Thus, pseudo-historians may write and talking heads may chatter at will without authentic research but drawing conclusions not derived from rigorous investigation nor adherence to the methodology which McCrum describes.
In short the cliche that history is written by the victors is a manifest truism.
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