When is history fact – wait, let me revise that…

Human interest in its own history has been around for, well, since humanity began. Through different means – oral, written, re-enacted – has history been passed down between generations. It was important to live up to the expectations and deeds of the elders.

Herodotus is given credit for being the father of history, but if we look further back we will find that various cultures had already been recording their history in writing. The Israelites spring to mind with the earliest historical works in the Bible: the five books of Moses.

Were all of these accounts (Greek, Roman, Babylonian, Israelite, etc.) factual? Some yes, some no. Do humans revise their history? Certainly. So are there really facts in history? Yes – the key is how to find and organize them to accurately understand an historic event.

You printed what?

Think of a reporter in an old black and white film, being chewed out by the editor of the paper for not getting the facts. The editor goes on to remind the wayward employee that he needs to get back to the basics – who, when, where, what and then, maybe, how and why!

Reporting or researching history works along the same lines. Who was involved in the event in question? When did it occur? Where? What kind of event was it? These can usually be verified by physical evidence – inscriptions, written records, archeological ruins, etc.

When the concrete details are corralled, then the suppositions may begin. How was it done? And, most iffy of all – why it happened?

It’s like working through one of those logic puzzles, with a series of clues and a criss-cross chart. Verify the easy items first. Then come the mental gymnastics.

See, what I really meant was…

Revise means to correct or improve – not a bad idea if past research was flawed or a supposition was off base because of societal taboos or bias. It has another meaning, slightly less virtuous sounding – to amend (not so bad) or alter (hmm, bad).

Alteration to rectify a mistaken fact is what history is about, but altering an historic record to change the interpretation based on current societal bias, personal opinion or grudge isn’t history – it’s misleading and dishonest. Ironically, the record of human history is full of this kind of revision.

To see through revision, learn about the authors; find out their philosophy of history. Then if you subtract the bias of their philosophy, does their interpretation still hold up? Be your own historian, be it academic history or any story or human event because, tomorrow, it will all be history!

Advertisements

Do you remember when…?

The details of the past are accessible by a single question. Being an historian only takes that one question and someone with a story to tell.

There are so many assumptions about history – primarily that it is inaccessible and boring. It really isn’t. It just takes someone young asking an elder what they know about the past.

History passed down in this way is referred to as an oral record. Often, people who yearn to research their personal genealogy become the default guardians of this historical record in their family. They were the ones who cared enough to find out about the family history before the bearers of that record were no more.

Sometimes we assume that once we’re tagged as the “family historian” we’re expected to write a book, which is a great achievement, but simply being able and willing to one day share those same stories with a younger generation is a great achievement, too.

Be the link – learn the history – pass it on.