[EAS]Inventing History

pjk pjk at design.eng.yale.edu
Thu Oct 5 22:01:35 EDT 2000

Subject:   Inventing History

Even the history of technology itself has not been left untouched
by this trend. We are all living in someone else's Adobe PhotoShop
file.   --PJK

(from NewsScan Daily, 5 October 2000)

        Keith Windschuttle warns in "The Killing of History" that
today  each historian makes his own history.
        "History is an intellectual discipline that is more than
2,400  years old. It ranks with philosophy and mathematics as among
the most  profound and enduring contributions that ancient Greece
made, not only to  European civilization, but to the human species
as a whole. Instead of the  mythical tales which all human cultures
have used to affirm their sense of  self-worth and their place in
the cosmos, the Greek historians decided to  try to record the
truth about the past.  They did this even though they  knew their
stories would expose how fragile was their existence, how their 
heroes could not guarantee their victories, how their oracles could
not  foretell their future and how their gods could not ensure
their fortunes.  The greatest of them, Thucydides, revealed how the
fate of people was  entirely contingent upon human actions and
social organization. Myth had  been comforting, but history was
bracing.  For most of the last 2,400  years, the essence of history
has continued to be that it should try to  tell the truth, to
describe as best as possible what really happened.  Over  this
time, of course, many historians have been exposed as mistaken, 
opinionated and often completely wrong, but their critics have
usually felt  obliged to show they were wrong about real things,
that their claims about  the past were different from the things
that had actually happened. In  other words, the critics still
operated on the assumption that the truth  was within the
historian's grasp.
        "Today, these assumptions are widely rejected, even among
some  people employed as historians themselves.  In the 1990s, the
newly dominant  theorists within the humanities and social sciences
assert that it is  impossible to tell the truth about the past or
to use history to produce  knowledge in any objective sense at all. 
They claim we can only see the  past through the perspective of our
own culture and, hence, what we see in  history are our own
interests and concerns reflected back at us.  The  central point
upon which history was founded no longer holds: there is no 
fundamental distinction any more between history and myth."

See http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1893554120/newsscancom/
for  Keith Windschuttle's "The Killing of History: How Literary
Critics and  Social Theorists Are Killing Our Past." (We donate all
revenue from our  book recommendations to adult literacy action

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