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Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

How are you sure the history told to you is not just a redacted version of the victor?

Asked by Hypocrisy_Central (26829points) August 27th, 2010

How can history really be trusted when the victor is the one that more than often gets to write it? Imagine if Nazi Germany had won, history at least in areas they controlled would have been told a lot differently. The Holocaust might have even been lionized. The struggle to take the West from the Native Americans, all the double dealing never made the history books but most all the “uprisings” as they call them spawned by the double dealings I am sure did, and not in favor of the Native Americans. How do you know the history you get is the ”real” history and not a redacted version of those who came out on top and was able to direct it?

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7 Answers

Simone_De_Beauvoir's avatar

We can’t always be sure – that’s what I was trying to say on that other question of yours.

aprilsimnel's avatar

Well, that’s why thoughtful people learn not to take things at face value and dig around for themselves.

Then again, because I am a non-white female in the United States, I was always going to be told something other than what I was learning at school. And if you’re of colour, or a woman, you notice right away that the history books (still!) put the achievements of non-white, non-male people in the last 4 or 5 paragraphs of the chapters of history books. I was asked by people outside of school what I was learning, and the history lessons were directly contradicted by my elders while I was growing up.

Then I learned about historians like William D. Wright, Mary Ritter Beard, Ida B. Wells, Howard Zinn, James Loewen, Ronald Takaki and others, and started reading them. History, of winners or losers, regardless, is soaked in blood.

There’s just no getting around that.

woodcutter's avatar

isn’t that what they say, History is written by the victors?

Dr_Lawrence's avatar

History is more than facts. It it an interpretation of those past events that are considered to have shaped society and its view of itself. It is by its very nature biased. The events that are selected to be considered of historical importance alone is subjective. The interpretation of their significance is subjective.
The mere recitation of the facts that can be empirically documented would be both dull and of minimal interest. It would read like an inventory or an accounting ledger.

The history we have been taught in a selective, subjective account of what happened filtered through the values and biases of people and societies. That is why we consider History to be a Humanities subject rather than a scientific discipline.

Despite its inherent bias, we can learn from it. It tells us about the society that recorded it and the one that offers it as an account of past events.

marinelife's avatar

Nowadays, there are so many checks and balances on writing history because of all of the media coverage that I think it is less slanted than ever.

Hawaii_Jake's avatar

In university curriculums, history is in the arts departments for a reason. It’s not a science. All we have to go on are the written records of the past, our interpretation of those, and the hope that those two mesh.

Historians with scrupples will attempt to tell the facts as best they can and limit their interpretations to what can be proved by those facts. Unscruppulous historians will do what they want. It’s up to the reader to educate her/himself in the art of reading between the lines to attempt clear understanding.

stranger_in_a_strange_land's avatar

Historians that interpret contrary to popular tastes are branded as revisionists, but are often vindicated a generation or two later. In cultures that permit freedom of speech, history tends to become more balanced the further back one goes. What passes for history as taught in primary and secondary schools is actually not history at all, rather a common cultural narrative for the masses, often with a calculated political objective. It’s not just the victors of wars that get to write the narrative. The version the mass of school children are taught is determined politically. Consider the Texas School Board; the majority of its members admit to right-wing religious bias. Most primary and secondary school history textbooks are edited so as not to offend this board.

All is not lost though. As long as primary source documents are preserved, interpretation of historical events tends to become more balanced a century or so after events happened. Only now, for example, are we beginning to see balanced and fair interpretations of the causes and events of the First World War.

This process is only thwarted when powerful institutions, usually government or religious, seek out and destroy primary source documents that could be interpreted contrary to their “party line”. For example, where is the narrative of the Medes or Old Prussians beyond the fact that they existed? What is the true history of any religion, once orthodox zealots have “purified” the archives?

Another problem that has evolved over the last 40 years is, that although almost everything is saved in some electronic format, these formats become superceded making the material unreadable as retrieval devices are scrapped as obsolete. Also the electronic media is not as permanent as we once thought, tapes and discs degrade over time, faster than paper.

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