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When We Study History We Are Not Studying The Past But What Historians Have Constructed About The Past

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Introduction

'When we study history we are not studying the past but what historians have constructed about the past' (Keith Jenkins). Discuss. History is supposedly the process of reporting the past in the most accurate way possible, however, this inevitably is not always the case. Our study of history is rarely, if ever, based on first hand experiences but rather the accounts of such experiences by other historians. In this way the basic and obvious facet of the question is answered as indeed in the act of studying it is necessary to have material to study which inevitably is written by a historian, as Jenkins comments "all history is historiography".1 Pg11 This though does not mean that opinions become uniform and although the same set of key facts are largely used they can be interpreted in endless different ways in pursuit of a 'past' closer to the truth. The clearest counter argument to Jenkins statement is the use of primary sources which could be said to be unbiased as they are predominantly objective such as facts and figures. They are the first report of fact which has not been lost in the translation of interpretation by various different historians. However, even these are vulnerable to inaccuracy, whether it is incomplete archives "perished by accident or design", being "Tainted by the less than pure intentions of their author"2, human errors or inaccuracies, or simply ambiguity such as that represented by a photograph. ...read more.

Middle

History in its nature is always a retrospective account of by an individual, rather than the first hand experience of it, and thus leaves it to become subject to the bias or discrepancy of that author. It is argued by post modernists that it is impossible to completely separate ones self from the argument and so facts become subject to spin and interpretation therefore becoming a tool in a subjective argument. "The belief in a hard core of historical facts existing objectively and independently of the interpretation of the historian is a preposterous fallacy."4 Pg 12 Carr expresses the view that there cannot be a completely unbiased argument and that during the process of writing history even the facts, in being used in a way that supports an argument, become part of a subjective argument. It could be considered that everything from the selection process to the structure of the essay becomes biased as the mere justification of using one group of sources over another and to pick only the most important facts over others to sustain your argument means that it becomes partial to the preference of the author and the structure of the essay can be used to present a fact in a more significant was so as to inflate its importance to the argument or its significance to the topic. ...read more.

Conclusion

accepted it is crucial to answering the question as it means that the process of historiography, that being the writing of history, has a purpose to entertain and so loses credibility as a source that is even attempting to be completely factual. This then has the implication that the history which is studied is not only constructed but manipulated. Although the study of history is largely based around the work of previous historical authors this does not necessarily imply any negativity unlike what is suggested in Jenkins statement. The process of writing history is not simply the acceptance and then reconstruction of information that you are given. It is also the evaluation of a source's integrity based on the conditions of its production and the extraction of any worthy information that may be with in even though it is undeniable that over time the selection and ensuing discard of information in history that it becomes impossible to recover a full account. So in some ways historians are undeniably bound by the choices of their predecessors but it cannot be considered that the historians as a race are to naive too have already accepted this argument at and sought to not simply take sources of history at face value but to analyse them and use them, albeit, just to restructure an argument in a way for the next person to similarly decode. ...read more.

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