Historical Writing


Historical Writing Essay, Research Paper

History! The thought of the subject alone sends chills down people s backs. As much as people would like to forget about the past it is something that we must look at, and study carefully. So much can be learned and put to good use for the future. Look at the depression, we can now see just what went wrong and this helps for the future. We can set up social programs and watch the trading in the stock market to make sure that it never happens again. If the time period was forgotten it would be a major possibility that history could repeat it s self. It has happened before.

As an example look at World War I. The Germans devised an exceptionally thought out plan that became known as the Schliefen Plan. This consisted of the Germans attacking the French through Belgium because they could see that the French defenses were very strong along the French-German border. When the Germans attacked through Belgium it was a big success and the Germans won the early campaign of the war. When World War II came around twenty years later the French neglected the past and set up a strong line of defense along the French-German border. Germany saw this and used the same plan that worked in the previous war. Using the blitz-krieg the Germans out flanked the French through Belgium and had complete control of France in a matter of weeks.

The only way for people to learn from history is to read about it. There are countless writings about every event in history that is of our knowledge. There are many books and articles that account for interviews, eyewitnesses, and passed on stories. This is the basis of what we know as history. If people of the past didn t write these accounts down they would be lost with the generation that lived with them. We would be ignorant and subject to make the same mistakes as the population of Earth made before us. The human race would become stagnant and evolution would be a lost concept.

The way that history has been past down has changed a great deal. In early Egyptian times things were not so much written, but were drawn in the form of Hieroglyphs to be pasted on to the future. This was not the best way to get the story or idea across but it did help in passing on the way of life that they lived. Another way for things to get passed on was by way of stories. This happened a lot in the Celtic regions of Europe for centuries. Fathers would tell a story to their children who would in turn pass it on to their own children. This however created problems.

As a story was told over and over it began to gain a little more story than was previously there. Each person would add a little to the story that they thought would make it sound better. As we can see in the stories of King Arthur of England. There is evidence that Arthur was king of England in early Celtic times. It is easy to see however that many of the tales told are lies. There is no evidence of the glorious city of Camelot. If it was as is told it would have been the social hotbed of England and some part of it would be left behind. Even though some stories of the round table are shown to have some historical truths to them, the glorious ness of it would show through much stronger today. Much later when these stories were written down they were so bent out of shape that they became more fables that real historical knowledge. People still argue on the truth of these stories today.

This brings me to the subject of this paper. Is it possible to look at a piece of historical writing and be able to think that what the author is saying is true. With so many different point of views on a given subject many writers see it on a completely different level. It becomes more personal beliefs that what really happened. This is a big problem because many people cling to the wrong ideas and don t really know the truth about what really happened in their past and how it can affect their future. With so many writers writing on the same subjects all of their point of views get projected upon people and the real events get clouded out. This alone could be catastrophic to the human race.

Whether a writer is credible or not becomes a big issue. Another issue is whether the author wrote in an academic manor that is accepted throughout the university and professional level. This is a way of weeding out many of the untrue writings that find a way to get published. A major critic of what was published and what was written was Montaigne. A writer during the Renaissance, Montaigne was very upset with his fellow Humanist writers. In Writing from History Montaigne makes a well thought point in saying that his fellow writers of the time degraded history in the writings that they did. He believed that instead of writing in a historical point of view that they wrote in the point of view that the church wanted to see. He felt that they corrupted everything that should be important to the society of Europe during his time. During the Renaissance history was a huge reason for the developments that were made. Leading thinkers of the time looked back to the Greeks and Romans for developments in their own time. If these become distorted than the whole reason behind the Renaissance becomes a joke. Montaigne was angry and ashamed by this. The lack of academic writing was what launched Montaigne into his writing. He wanted the truth to be known and not what the church thought should be the truth.

With all of the degrading writers out there it is almost impossible to know just who is right. When two writers say two different things the only person that loses is the reader. They come out of the experience not really learning anything because they don t know what is right and what is wrong. In History and Writing by Albert Cook, a good point is brought up. He begins by talking about how many historians will try to persuade readers in to thinking along their lines a little too much. in ways we may continue to discuss, he remains ironic, or tends toward an implied irony even though he has recourse only intermittently to the explicit ironic sentences that tend to be a constant feature of narratives written by historians of any persuasion. (p. 56) This becomes an interesting point. Are historians writing to let readers know and understand what the past was like or are they writing to give readers there view of what happened and persuade them to think in the same manner? This is where it is hard to think of historical writing as a credible source to finding information pertaining to the past. Who knows what to think?

Any time that a historian begins to write he/she must sit down and look at the facts in front of them. Interpretation becomes a huge factor in what is written and how it is written. In Detachment and the Writing of History by Carl L. Becker the ideas of interpretation is pondered. Becker discusses how any time that interpretation is used on facts they become different ideas for each different person that sees them. So when they get put on paper and published many times they are looking at the same subject but have split off in very different directions. This creates a confusion that turns many people away from history. They don t want to deal with the interpretation of other people. They would rather see the facts for themselves and form their own opinions. That is the way that the human brain works. Nobody likes being told what to do or how to think. People like to be independent. Becker has a good point and looks at the sociological point that history brings up.

Just how far can a historian take the writing of untrue material before he/she becomes a total idiot of the profession? This is an interesting idea because it is easily seen that a lot of times they seem to go way over board and lose the reader. This begins a kind of doubt in the reader and sets up questioning of the credibility of the author. In the Essay The Treachery of Recollection: The Inner and Outer History by Daniel Aaron in the book Essays on History and Literature Aaron talks about how easy it is for a historian to manipulate the past. He writes the historian of the past is free to probe into the lives of the departed with the comfortable feeling that they are not likely to talk back or him for libel. (p. 7) This brings up a great point. Even if a writer writes things that are untrue, who is going to be there to call them on it and show them for the fools that they are? This is why it is so hard to distinguish just what is good history and what isn t.

From these accounts it is easy to see that even though a historian may write it. It may not contain the kind of academic truths that are needed for good academic historical writing. For instance, a well-known novel and book that was thought to be true can be seen as mostly lies. The Untouchables was a story about how Al Capone was caught and put in jail by Elliot Ness. Ness did have some things to do with it but the story he later told is the one in the novel and that story has little truths to it. The worst part about it is that the American public sees the truth as in the novel and not what happened in real life. This truly shows how the credibility of history can be tarnished.


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