Historical Truth

Benny Morris offers a hopelessly out of date view if history in the latest issue of The New Republic [subscription required]. In his review of A History of Modern Palestine: One Land, Two Peoples By Ilan Pappe, Morris states the following:

[W]e approached history, and the writing of history, from antithetical standpoints. Pappe regarded history through the prism of contemporary politics and consciously wrote history with an eye to serving political ends. My own view was that while historians, as citizens, had political views and aims, their scholarly task was to try to arrive at the truth about a historical event or process, to illuminate the past as objectively and accurately as possible. I believed, and still believe, that there is such a thing as historical truth; that it exists independently of, and can be detached from, the subjectivities of scholars; that it is the historian’s duty to try to reach it by using as many and as varied sources as he can. When writing history, the historian should ignore contemporary politics and struggle against his political inclinations as he tries to penetrate the murk of the past.

How is this guy still writing books?! What a naive and old fashioned concept!

Seriously though (the above was sarcasm in case you missed it), you have no idea how it warms my heart to see someone write that out in a review; to admit it in public proudly and with assurance. Almost makes me want to return to grad school.

About the author

Kevin Holtsberry

I work in communications and public affairs. I try to squeeze in as much reading as I can while still spending time with my wife and two kids (and cheering on the Pittsburgh Steelers and Michigan Wolverines during football season - oh, and watching golf too).

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3 Comments

  • History!

    Collected Miscellany has a couple of posts on the writing of history. The first points out that history is about determining and recording historical truth–not about exporting present day politics into the past. This should go without saying. The seco…

  • I am currently taking an IB History course, and what we get told the whole time is “There is no such thing as historical truth!!!”. I agree that a historian must eliminate bias, and be able to look at history in it’s context, but who is not biased? It is impossible not to be biased. We all are in one way or another.
    An example of our false perception of history is that of the USSR before the opening of the archives. Whole books had to be rewritten when the ‘true’ nature of the Soviet Union was revealed by countless new documents. How can we know that what we know now is historically accurate?
    What I mean to say is that the above thing on the existence of historical truth is not accurate, and that it is impossible to eliminate bias. A good historian tries to analyse history from all perspectives, so that he can eliminate bias, but it will always exist. That’s why, a real history book doesn’t say ‘this is how it was …..’ … it will say ‘blabla says it was this, and blabla says it was that …. actually it could be an inbetween of the two, or blablablablabla ‘ …. sorry guys, I’ll stop waffling on now. I’m becoming too much like my history lecturer ;P … Please post any comments if u’ve got an oppinion on this.