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History is an honest search for truth,

Misrepresentation abounds in the most valuable works of historians.

No history can present us with the whole truth, but they are the parts as most nearly produce the effect of the whole.

The word 'history' comes to us from the sixth century Ionians; it was their name for achievement. It meant not telling a tale, but the search for knowledge and the truth. It was not until Aristotle and more especially Polybius that it came to be applied to the literary product of the inquiry which precedes it. Aristotle described history as an account of what individual human beings have done and suffered.

History is an interpretation of the past in terms of the demands of the present. History is the disordered mass of truth and falsehood. It is idle to try to stay the wheels of history (a metaphor). It is futile to defy the force of history or 'put the clock back' or 'restore the past.' History is a river of time, the stream of history. It is a moving stair on which we are borne. It draws attention to those necessary conditions we could easily overlook.

History raises and attempts to answer two important questions:
(1) What was life like for men and women in the past ages?
(2) What impact did the past have on the present? (3) Those who desire an exact knowledge of the past as an aid to understanding the future, should remember that because human beings are involved, it may resemble it but not reflect it.

History is the sum of innumerable biographies. Carlyle

History is the applied utilization of documents - primary sources are at the heart of the history enterprise.

History is every echo of the past.

History is creative elaboration, the creative pursuit of menaing in the past.

At the heart of the historical enterprise is the process of interpretation and debate.

History is our interpretation of and opinion about human affairs in the past. Our object is to know and understand the past in which we may be interested for its own sake or as the parent of the present.

History fosters in us five invaluable lessons:
  • the habit of looking for causes;
  • the habit of remembering that human behaviour, including our own, is influenced by what goes on around us;
  • the habit of weighing various opinions and checking them against available facts, before we make up our mind and make a judgement;
  • the habit of expecting changes to be slow and realizing that quick remedies may often be quack remedies;
  • the habit of looking at immediate events with some perspective.

    History should combine:

  • a concern for truth because history seeks only the genuine and the true. Truth alone should reign in the realm of history. However, in any great history, there may be omissions, distortions and mistakes.
  • a careful sifting of evidence to ensure to the extent possible freedom from bias, propaganda and stereotype; History can be judgmental and opinionated, but not necessarily unfair or biased.
  • an intelligent selection of what is important;
  • a sense of drama because emotion is as essential to history as it is to poetry.

    "Stormed at by shot and shell,
    Flashed all their sabres bare.
    O what a charge they made,
    Into the valley of death
    Rode the six hundred."

    History is "emotion plus action recollected or reflected upon in tranquility after close and honest examination of the records." It is subjective and individual and conditioned by the interest and the vision of the historian.

    In order to reveal emotional drama one must get beneath the facts to the faces. Find and fix upon the human hopes, purposes, plans and intentions which inspired and still inspire people.

    History is both a science and an art. The science results from the search to find out what really happened. The art results from the narrative noting the results of the search. History deals with concrete events fixed in time and space and narrative is its basic medium.

    History involves three distinct functions.
  • The scientific function entails the discovery of historical evidence, a comprehensive, exact gathering of facts, the sifting of the scientifically discovered data, "the piecing together with infinite care of the broken mosaic of the past." To find the truth and set it forth - this is the first qualification of the historian.
  • The theoretical function encompasses the wise selection, appraisal and evaluation of facts.
  • The artistic function is the exposition of the facts for the reader, the literary act involving a written account that will appeal to and inform the reader. "It is the creature of imagination and literary style that depends upon expression, vivid painting, sympathy, grace and elegance and elevated sentiments or compelling power."

    History is a cumulative process with one scholar advancing on the building blocks provided by another. In fact, with each revision (narrative version) it is presumed by some, that we know better or see more clearly the nature of the past. We are for ever inching our way closer to its truth? "Standing on the powerful shoulders of our illustrious predecessors," we are able both to advance "the quality" and "the 'truthfulness' of history" This continuous process of interaction between historians and their facts is an unending dialogue between the past and the present.

    History's incurable subjectivity results from our ongoing interest in all new aspects of past events. Because of this fact, all history is contemporary history because our contemporary interests determine what we select for examination and consideration.

    History should be above all else exact and serious, but at the same time it can be true and lively. .

    The lenses through which we look at the past have to be refocussed from generation to generation..

    What seemed wisdom to our fathers is often folly to us. .

    Maintain interest by digressions and incidental matter thrown into the work. .

    Character and chance at grips with destiny..

    While the best history has enduring elements, there is a sense in which every generation has to have history re-written anew. In this fact lies much of the fascination which history will always offer thoughtful people.

    "History ferrets out facts and establishes meaningful order out of the chaos of materials. The difficulty in writing history is not the poverty but the profusion of materials."

    "History is merely the applied utilization of documents," for history is after all done with documents. Primary sources are at the heart of the historical enterprise. This definition should be qualified in these two ways. First: the "applied utilization" far from being just objective and a naturally imposed process, is one of also of creativity and interpretation. Interpretation and debate are at the heart of the historical enterprise. Second, "document" must be understood in the broad sense to mean not just written text, but every echo of the past - written, oral, physical and mental.

    What matters is an acute sensitivity to the remembrance of things past. Ancient societies were insatiable consumers of their own heritage. Greece and Rome made sense of their place in the world and justified it to themselves by remembering and by insisting on the unifying relationship between the present and what had gone before.


    As reason is the glory of man, so the lamp of reason is eloquence. Cicero

    "To historians is granted a talent that even gods are denied - to alter what has already happened." David Irving

    "Ignorance is the first requisite of the historian - ignorance which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits with placid perfection unattainable at the highest art." Lytton Strachey

    "History is too serious to be left to historians." Iain MacLeod
    British Politician & Historian

    "Imitating the bees which laboriously gather their honey from every flower, I collected with discretion material proper for a true history." Vergil

    "The purpose of writing is to narrate, not to prove." Quintilian

    "The Historian is the prophet looking backwards." Frederick Schlegel

    "In order to be a good historian, it is necessary to have no religion, no country, no profession and no party." Horace Walpole

    If a historian adheres to original documents, she/he will never stray far from Real History. David Irving

    "The best historian combines knowledge of the evidence with the highest intellect, warmest human sympathy and highest imaginative powers to enable the historian to understand the evidence accumulated." George Macaulay Trevelyan

    George Macaulay Trevelyan

    "There is no verdict of history other than the private opinion of the individual who wrote it." George Macaulay Trevelyan

    "Man and above all the historian is full of vanity. He gives fine scope to his imagination and tries to interest the reader at the expense of truth." Napoleon


    Limitation and selection are essential for a historian's task.

    The task of a historian is much like that of a restorer who carefully scrapes away layers of over-painting to reveal the original picture hidden beneath. The nearer she/he gets to the canvas, the closer he comes to truth. His/Her secret: to write narrative history, marshall hard facts and tell anecdotes to support big judgments.

    It is not by the direct method of a scrupulous narration that the explorer of the past can hope to depict that singular epoch (any long period of history). If he is wise, he will attack his subject in unexpected places; he will fall upon the flank or the rear; he will shoot a sudden, revealing searchlight into obscure recesses hitherto undivided. He will row over that great ocean of material and lower down into it, here and there a bucket which will bring up to the light of day, some characteristic specimen from those far depths to be examined with careful curiosity. Lytton Strachey

    The Historian, the guardian and interpreter of the past's treasure trove of human experiences, seeks to find out what really happened. This involves two functions:

  • To find out what people of the past thought, felt and intended. To do so she/he must get inside the minds of the people and see their problems as they saw them, not as we see them today.
  • To indicate the ultimate consequences of actions and movements in the past and their relationship to later times including our own day.

    \The Historian:
  • must be interested in the past because curiosity is the hallmark of a historian.
  • must be able to put oneself in another place and time because the richest insights result from attempting to imagine what it would have been like to be there. This helps bridge the period between then and now. Being sympathetic towards those from another time and place fosters creative understanding of the past.
  • must be able to withhold judgement until all the facts are known and evaluated.
    "To historians is granted a talent that even the gods are denied: to alter what has already happened!"

  • Always bearing this cynical in mind, the Historian must seek the truth which should always direct the historian's pen for history seeks only the genuine and true. No historical fact should be accepted without evidence. The primary duty of the historian is to stay within the evidence.
  • must after collecting the material, make sense of it, select the essential, discard the irrelevant and assemble the rest into her/his personal interpretation in a dramatic narrative that will keep the reader reading.

    The Historian must know when to stop researching and start writing, a slow, often painful, sometimes agonizing process which involves adding, cutting, revising and rewriting. This creative act provides great satisfaction and really effective historians devote as much care to it as they do to collecting and shaping their material. Historians must also be precise because historical precision is a basic expectation of good history. To be accurate is a duty not a virtue. Fine historians at the same time are able to make history stimulating or even stirring by creating great images for the reader. Private letters, diaries, reports, orders and messages lend immediacy and intimacy.

    The most essential quality of a Historian is the narrative/descriptive gift.
  • What imagination is to poets facts are to historians.
  • The exercise of judgement comes from their selection.
  • The art comes from their arrangement.
  • The method is the narrative.
  • The subject is the story of mankind's past.
  • The function is to make it known in a way that attracts readers.

    Interpretation of the historical record by the historian must involve making choices not only about the context but also the meaning of historical events. Whether this neutral and objective role of analyst - someone who looks dispassionately at the evidence and presents one's findings - is ever actually possible is debatable given the choices that every historian must make and how he or she sets about analysing something.

    The roles of analyst and judge are not mutually exclusive. The historian does not pick only one of these 'hats' to wear; they overlap and shift and involved two other roles every historian, in one way or another, must play. First as synthesizer, she/he brings together a variety of things (pieces of evidence, ideas, other historians' works) and forges them into a new pattern. This involves making choices - what to include; what to leave out; what to emphasize' what to downplay - choices that are unavoidable. The role of synthesizer is essential for without it there would be no 'history' as we understand it - only stacks and stackes of records, lacking shape or coherence.

    Finally, every historian is a story teller who makes the synthesis available to a wider audience. The 'history' is the final production (after the historian has completed all his or her other roles), and it is necessarily a kind of narrative, a story, as soon as the historian starts to analyse and explain. As readers we are led from a beginning to a middle to an end. Unless the historian has cheated or been lazy or sloppy, the story is true to its sources. However, the tale told could be different had the historian adopted a different role.

    The diligent historian is like a dedicated dog that cannot refrain from bringing things to the attention of the public, things which some may prefer are better left buried.

    Historians should be neither cheerleaders of history's victors, nor advocates for history's vanquished.

    No one historian can possibly see more than a fraction of the truth. If he/she sees all sides, he/she probably cannot see very deeply.

    A historian's task is akin to that of a painter, not a photographer in that he must single out and stress that which is the nature of the thing.

    Herodotus of Halicarnassus (484-420 B.C.) who is commonly called the Father of History
    His more chauvinistic compatriots called him the Father of Lies because of his interest in foreign lands.


    Herodotus reciting his histories to an audience.

    Thucydides (455-c.401 B.C.) "the most Politick Historiographer that ever writ."
    He introduced systematic analysis of causation and consequence; quoted documents and treatises at length; and in set-piece orations of his principal protagonists, he found a marvellous method for injecting his strictly impartial narrative with subjective opinion.

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    Muse of History

    Writing History with Father Time at her feet.
    Frontispiece of 1724 Histoire d'Angleterre by Paul de Rapin
    Monarchs on Medallions - Roman Claudius to Wm the Conqueror

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