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Objective histories.

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

What evidence, using 2 perspectives, is there to support the view that there can never be truly objective histories. This essay will focus on the view that there can never be truly objective histories using two perspectives from the later part of the twentieth century and will also consider various definitions on the nature of history. Subsequent to the appraisal of various theories on the nature of history, it could be argued that historians seem to be in a state of confusion about their own profession. The status of historical knowledge has been hotly contested with regards the question of whether history is a science and more recently with the nature of language and the extent of its bearing on the real world, past and present. Disagreement among historians about the nature of virtually every aspect of their work from the definition of history and primary source evaluation through to the finished work of interpretation is copious. E.H.Carr in 'What is History?' (1990, p30) defines history as 'continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past'. This is partially similar to K.Jenkins's version, in 'Re-thinking History', (1991, p70) 'History is a shifting problematic discourse, ostensibly about an aspect of the world, the past, that is produced by a group of present-minded workers...' (historians). In contrast, J.Warren, in 'History and the Historians' (1999, p109) offers a more simplistic definition, 'History is the past, and historians are those who write about history'. ...read more.

Middle

J.Tosh, in 'The pursuit of History' (2000) states, it is possible that a historian's current priority may lead her/him to highlight some aspects of the past and to exclude others. Popular historical knowledge tends to a highly selective interest in the remains of the past, is shot through with present day assumptions, and is only incidentally concerned to understand the past on its own terms. Tradition, nostalgia and the belief in progress, which make up social memory, look for a consistent window on the past and result in significantly distorting images of the past. Conversely, professional historians insist on a lengthy immersion in the primary sources, a deliberate shedding of present day assumptions and a rare degree of empathy and imagination. G.R.Elton argues that the historian's training predisposes her/him to give a privileged place to the factual or 'exact knowledge'. They look for the reality content in their documents and aim to build their arguments on empirically verifiable truths. In the same way a scientist would approach her/his task, without preconceptions and moral involvement. Therefore, the historian's first duty is to accumulate factual knowledge about the past, which will in turn determine how the past should be explained or interpreted. According to R.G.Collingwood, in 'The Idea of History' (1946), the historian's decisions 'shall follow inevitably from the evidence'. Postmodernist view the notion of the objective historian as ridiculous, because it presupposes that the truth about the past is recoverable. ...read more.

Conclusion

Rorty's use the concept of 'ironic re-description' to support the view that anything can be made to look good or bad, desirable or undesirable, useful or useless, simply by being re-described, which includes the past/history. This in turn creates a mass of genres (designer/niche histories) to be variously used and/or abused T.Zeldin, an opponent of 'scientific' theory maintains in his article, 'Ourselves as we see us' (31 December 1982, Times Literary Supplement), that all he or any historian can offer is his personal vision of the past, 'everyone has the right to find his own perspective'. J.Warren holds that objectivity is less a personal quality or attribute than an awareness of the difficulties of being objective. A historian should be aware of the dangers of overstating the possibility of objectivity, but also the dangers of denying it completely, which plays into the hands of those who have a vested interest in a denial of their own - namely, that the Holocaust actually happened. In conclusion, history does not exist in the present; it cannot be recreated, but exists largely through the writings of historians, who inevitably distort it to a greater or lesser degree. Dismissing objectivity altogether is verging on the edge of the relativism cliff. The debate over the definition of history will most definitely continue, which is a healthy sign. Nonetheless, historians satisfy the need of society for an explanation of the past, which is grounded in reality, even if it cannot claim to communicate the absolute truth. ...read more.

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