Friday, July 25, 2008

Food for Thought

The world is full of happenings whose outcomes are not certain, some more important than others. History, as reported in the future, will be the judge of how correct we were in our actions, how important some of today's events really turned out to be. But what is history?

"History. n. An account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools"--From "The Cynic's Word Book by Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)


Anonymous said...

I had a college history prof who told us that most of history is fictionalized. To prove his point he took an event that had happened only two weeks before class. He asked us to give all the facts of that event. When we listed everything that had been reported in all the various media there were many conflicts of facts clear. There were things on the list that had not happened at all. He pointed out that if we couldn't get all the facts correct and we had lived through this event, that event would look a lot different from what it was when it was read about in a history book years from now.

Makes you kind of wonder why we study history then when so much of it didn't happen the way the history books say it happened.

Anonymous said...

Yes, but if history wasn't this absurd, biased and derived from the time and social circumstances of the historian, I'd have far less work. I study historiography--the history of writing about history.

Anonymous said...

Worth reading:

"That's Not in My American History Book" by Ayres

"Lies My Teacher Told Me" by Loewen

Anonymous said...

Between Bierce's time and hours, the focus of historical research has changed dramatically, to focus far more on on how daily life was and changed and large scale social and economic trends than on the doings of the rulers and military.

Dave said...

Those looking for the source of the quote will have better luck under the author's preferred title, "The Devil's Dictionary".

ProfK said...

You're right Mike, except that recent history is also filled with battles and wars and head of state "personalities" with great influence upon the people they rule/ruled. You can't write about the Cuban people without referencing Fidel Castro and his "militia" and his policies. Ditto with others elsewhere.

ProfK said...

For those with an interest in reading more of Bierce's work, the full text can be found here

This note heads the material: "Since the material here represents the view of one individual and was written in the early years of this century, there will no doubt be material here that you will find sexist, nationalist, racist, or just generally offensive. Proceed at your own risk."

The Five + of Us said...

My history teacher always told us, the winners get to write the history.

(Although, looking at what's happening in Israel, I'm not so sure that's true anymore... )