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The Interpretation of History

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Al Jassas View Drop Down
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    Posted: 17 Mar 2010 at 16:09
Hello to you all
 
Historiography has went a long way since the early chronicles of Herodotus. In the beginning it was merely chronicling what happened with little checking on the part of the "historian" on the integrity of the story he mentions. Later on writing history became more organised but little was done other then retelling what happened.
 
However by the 19th century historians began to interpret historical events and looking on them not just from the pure historical lens, but from social, economic and religious lenses too. As new political ideologies began to arise people began to theorise why certain historical events happened in order to justify their positions. This new view of history changed the landscape forever and scarcely a book exist without the author attempting wittingly or unwittingly to insert his/her views on a certain subject.
 
So how do you like your history? do you prefer reading historians who are knowns for certain interpretations of events or do you like raw information with you not te historian making your own informed opinion on what happened?
 
I myself like to read raw history because from my experience (as I mentioned in an earlier thread) I don't trust historians with ideological zeals becaue they tnd to outright lie to propagate their ideology.
 
Al-Jassas
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fantasus View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote fantasus Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2010 at 19:52
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Hello to you all
 
Historiography has went a long way since the early chronicles of Herodotus. In the beginning it was merely chronicling what happened with little checking on the part of the "historian" on the integrity of the story he mentions. Later on writing history became more organised but little was done other then retelling what happened.
 
However by the 19th century historians began to interpret historical events and looking on them not just from the pure historical lens, but from social, economic and religious lenses too. As new political ideologies began to arise people began to theorise why certain historical events happened in order to justify their positions. This new view of history changed the landscape forever and scarcely a book exist without the author attempting wittingly or unwittingly to insert his/her views on a certain subject.
 
So how do you like your history? do you prefer reading historians who are knowns for certain interpretations of events or do you like raw information with you not te historian making your own informed opinion on what happened?
 
I myself like to read raw history because from my experience (as I mentioned in an earlier thread) I don't trust historians with ideological zeals becaue they tnd to outright lie to propagate their ideology.
 
Al-Jassas
Perhaps You can say so about some historians. But do You honestly believe those sources of "raw" history (if it exists at all!) are all "neutral" or only interested in telling an "objective truth"?
Politicians, religious leaders, or whatever else are above all personal emotions, interests, and, yeas, ideologies?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Flipper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2010 at 22:10
Al Jassas we drink the same cup of tea. I'm for the raw history as well. I like to do the dirty job myself, especially when I can combine many different sources. When It comes to modern history, things can be a bit more difficult, cause you have many perspectives with different causes.

What I'm thinking of is that some times the socio-political interpretations we do today can be biased as well. In many cases we might be unable to comprehend certain phenomena or we misinterpret them cause we judge with our current generation and our life experience today. Besides, how many times have we proved ourselves wrong in history. Some things were unacceptable to even assume 100 years ago. Today, we have a different view on things. Even a 25 year period can change our view on what happened and why it happened. Sometimes, when you choose raw history you make your own conclusions. Sometimes you might prove yourself you were right by thinking that way.
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Aster Thrax Eupator View Drop Down
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Aster Thrax Eupator Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Mar 2010 at 22:51

Quote Al Jassas we drink the same cup of tea. I'm for the raw history as well. I like to do the dirty job myself, especially when I can combine many different sources. When It comes to modern history, things can be a bit more difficult, cause you have many perspectives with different causes.

All due respect, but what does that even mean? A lot of these models and theories have expanded organically from problems encountered in the "raw source" work. The two are not seperate - although naturally many intellectual models have been applied from outside across the history, many of these methods are derived organically. I've often found - no offence to you, and I'm not intending this to be directed at you, Flipper - that kind of argument to be utilised with people with a pretty basic comprehension of historical analysis. "Dirty work" with the sources doesn't make one a "better" historian - the logical consistency of the argument and its' analytical merits are some of the key elements that help a good historical argument stand up. Especially as more and more work is done in increasingly 'finished' areas (if that's really a helpful term...) of historical enquiry, arguments become increasingly more complex until originality can only be achieved when one has an argument consiting of tens of posits and criteria. From this perspective, the application of the kind of models that you and Al-Jassas seem to be worried about is neccesary for any proper historical research. Moreover, many of the 'raw sources' that you talk about were themselves products of these models and more ideological driven histories - there is no getting away from it (Regard Titus Livy, Tacitus, Thucydides, Procopius etc...)! The events themselves are gone - there is no way to remove context of writing from the immortalised 'events' in the text. 'Models' are almost all we have!

Quote Historiography has went a long way since the early chronicles of Herodotus. In the beginning it was merely chronicling what happened with little checking on the part of the "historian" on the integrity of the story he mentions. Later on writing history became more organised but little was done other then retelling what happened.

I'm just nitpicking here, and my primary point is made above - I am admittedly a bit of a 'Herodidoloter' as De Croix would say, but even so, I feel that's a bit too simplistic. Herodotos hardly uncritically replicates what his sources have given us - which most people agree upon to a greater or lesser extent (naturally, that doesn't mean it's 'history' by our modern criteria, but then again, very little is if we apply that liberally!). If you want to have a chat about Herodotos, we should open up a thread - one of the most fascinating subjects in ancient history/ancient historiography (I'm thinking of doing my masters on something to do with him and/or his predecessors!).

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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Mar 2010 at 02:09
Originally posted by Flipper Flipper wrote:

Al Jassas we drink the same cup of tea. I'm for the raw history as well. I like to do the dirty job myself, especially when I can combine many different sources. When It comes to modern history, things can be a bit more difficult, cause you have many perspectives with different causes.

What I'm thinking of is that some times the socio-political interpretations we do today can be biased as well. In many cases we might be unable to comprehend certain phenomena or we misinterpret them cause we judge with our current generation and our life experience today. Besides, how many times have we proved ourselves wrong in history. Some things were unacceptable to even assume 100 years ago. Today, we have a different view on things. Even a 25 year period can change our view on what happened and why it happened. Sometimes, when you choose raw history you make your own conclusions. Sometimes you might prove yourself you were right by thinking that way.
 
Each and every one us carries a bias (often many more than one) and the notion that unbiased historical writing is possible is but a pipe dream. We shape the detritus of the past as either cudgel or balm for our very own present and often at the very expense of the past we are supposedly explaining. Not to be cynical, but a respected teacher of mine loved to paraphrase this bon mot: There are lies; there are damned lies; and then there is History, which to Statisticians brings salvation to the World of Lies!
 
A tip to the budding historian: The Introduction to your musings should always be the last task in writing. Not only does it make your research appear prescient, but as facts collide with original assumptions, you will be spared the tiresome task of a rewrite!Evil Smile


Edited by drgonzaga - 18 Mar 2010 at 02:10
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Flipper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Mar 2010 at 08:10
Originally posted by Aster Thrax Eupator Aster Thrax Eupator wrote:

All due respect, but what does that even mean? A lot of these models and theories have expanded organically from problems encountered in the "raw source" work. The two are not seperate - although naturally many intellectual models have been applied from outside across the history, many of these methods are derived organically. I've often found - no offence to you, and I'm not intending this to be directed at you, Flipper - that kind of argument to be utilised with people with a pretty basic comprehension of historical analysis. "Dirty work" with the sources doesn't make one a "better" historian - the logical consistency of the argument and its' analytical merits are some of the key elements that help a good historical argument stand up. Especially as more and more work is done in increasingly 'finished' areas (if that's really a helpful term...) of historical enquiry, arguments become increasingly more complex until originality can only be achieved when one has an argument consiting of tens of posits and criteria. From this perspective, the application of the kind of models that you and Al-Jassas seem to be worried about is neccesary for any proper historical research. Moreover, many of the 'raw sources' that you talk about were themselves products of these models and more ideological driven histories - there is no getting away from it (Regard Titus Livy, Tacitus, Thucydides, Procopius etc...)! The events themselves are gone - there is no way to remove context of writing from the immortalised 'events' in the text. 'Models' are almost all we have!



Aster, I think you misunderstood my point. I didn't mean that I will go through the raw history and form a view from that based on my own comprehension. I just meant it is challenging sometimes to try to analyze it and see how far you can reach. You cannot ignore historical analysis if you want to have a good perspective of history.

Basically the whole thing starts that during my school years, I studied Thucydides both ways. There was the ordinary history course where you learned about the historical events mentioned by Thucydides and there was a course were you read the "raw" source and you were supposed to do a basic analysis yourself, assisted of course by the teacher.  The raw history was a little bit ahead of the historical analysis, so when you reached the history course of the events you could see how you had percepted history, where you were wrong and where you were right, where you should be aware of other things than just the raw source. That was what I found interesting.

Apart from that when I read about something and there's a point of reference that I find interesting, then I like to go to the primary source and read it myself to understand how the historical analyst came to that conclusion.



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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Flipper Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Mar 2010 at 08:11
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

 
A tip to the budding historian: The Introduction to your musings should always be the last task in writing. Not only does it make your research appear prescient, but as facts collide with original assumptions, you will be spared the tiresome task of a rewrite!Evil Smile


That is a very good point actually!
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Al Jassas Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Mar 2010 at 09:12
Hello Aster
 
Obviously you misinterpreted my argument above. I am not a historian and probably won't be. There are certain areas of history no matter how much I read about them from primary sources I won't get the full picture from them alone, I have to seek what a modern historian has to say about them.
 
My point here is about the "interpretation" of historical events not the analysis of them and there is a difference. I actually appreciate when a book gives a general portrait about the social, economic and political climate during a certain historical event.
 
On the other hand I have a problem with guys who interpret history by simply reflecting their own ideology by for example looking into a civil war from the perspective of class struggle, socialism or any other political philosophy. While interpreting historical events is good thing when it comes to a very complex historical period (like the reformation or the Enlightenment), I think sometimes historians go too far in those interpretations by giving certain events more than their worth of interpretation.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 18 Mar 2010 at 20:55
Originally posted by Al Jassas Al Jassas wrote:

Hello Aster
 
Obviously you misinterpreted my argument above. I am not a historian and probably won't be. There are certain areas of history no matter how much I read about them from primary sources I won't get the full picture from them alone, I have to seek what a modern historian has to say about them.
 
My point here is about the "interpretation" of historical events not the analysis of them and there is a difference. I actually appreciate when a book gives a general portrait about the social, economic and political climate during a certain historical event.
 
On the other hand I have a problem with guys who interpret history by simply reflecting their own ideology by for example looking into a civil war from the perspective of class struggle, socialism or any other political philosophy. While interpreting historical events is good thing when it comes to a very complex historical period (like the reformation or the Enlightenment), I think sometimes historians go too far in those interpretations by giving certain events more than their worth of interpretation.
 
Al-Jassas
 
Years ago, I had a colleague Dr. Joseph R. Berrigan, whose area of expertise was the Middle Ages and its intellectual milieu and he was always fond of referring to the 18th century as the Age of the Enblightenment. Why? Because it's leading "lights" purposely mischaracterized preceeding ages (particularly the Medieval World) as the source of their own contemporary ills. If you have not caught it by now, historians--the famous and the not so--are also products of their own times. Hence, careful reading will always tell you almost as much, if not more, about the author of the history than of the times he is purportedly analyzing. For example, Gibbon when writing about Rome and Empire is actually revealing much about his own times and the foibles of the years 1790-1820. Now, you are quite honest in admitting your distaste for what in shorthand is known as scientism in Historical writing but such should not include the analysis of an ideal and its impact upon the times under study. The problem comes from confusing the cultural impact of an intellectual abstraction upon the society that gave it birth and presenting it as Truth.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Reginmund Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Mar 2010 at 10:09
Whether you read primary sources and secondary literature bias is always something that needs to be peeled off the text if you're interested in the events portrayed and not the circumstances it was written under. Nothing is "raw", only the events themselves are "raw", but those we can only know through the sources, and whether a historian is writing in the 10th or 20th century they are still making personal interpreations of sources.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 24 Mar 2010 at 11:30
"Peeled off" is an unfortunate choice of words, Reginmund, in that if you take the Sargeant Friday approach to investigation--"the facts, ma'am just the facts"--the result is mere chronicle. People often forget that what characterizes an age is its bias. The no-nos come later at the hands of subsequent ages. However, for the contemporary historian bias as a term is something entirely different: it is purposeful misrepresentation through calculated manipulation--the inability to discard one's own baggage. Here's an illustration:
 
At present the verbiage over fundamentalist preachers and politics has reached a crescendo of condemnation as the knowledgeful commiserate over the foolishness (as a danger to boot); yet, these self-same know-it-alls still address the antics of Luther and the Reformation as the first breaths of liberty in Western intellectual life. Guess what, the truly pragmatic would be burning a candle to the memory of Pope Leo X rather than that mad Augustinian monk since it was that pope who represented modernity in his age while Luther propagated the darkest aspects of rampant religiosity and closed-mindedness.
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