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Old July 31st, 2012, 11:28 AM   #1

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Modern History: Historical Frustrations.


As a current grad student, I am regularly involved in discussions with fellow students about Historiography, Research, and current Narratives. As one who is specializing in U.S. Colonial, Revolution, and Early Republic, I find that my discussion with those who study the Modern era ( in this case I would say 1900- present) really become interesting when we talk about things such as WWII, Cold War, and Post-Cold War History.

To be honest, I don't really envy those who are in these areas. Despite some disclosures by various govrnments throughtout the world, there is no doubt that many important historical documents that could help explain actions are still "classified" and we will never see them in our lifetime. With that, the modern historical debates are very intense and sometimes very incomplete.

My question for the forum is this:

When discussing modern History, are you cognative of possibility that the information you have when discussing these events is probably not complete and are you willing to concede that the information isn't all in and any premise you present is incomplete due to this factor?
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Old July 31st, 2012, 12:57 PM   #2

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It's not a long time that this forum has put a limit [early 90's, 91 if I'm not wrong] as the latest "historical boundary" for threads.

Among the reasons, I guess there is also what you mention.

I can may an easy example thinking to Italian recent history. Until early 90's there were only rumors and clues about the activity of Soviet KGB in Italy, then a report [Mitrokin] came out from former USSR archives ... and we had historical proves about that.

Generally I think that until a power is alive the "secrets" [the reserved materials behind important decisions] won't be available for historians, and after the end of the power, historians will have to count on luck: archives can be destroyed or lost ...
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Old July 31st, 2012, 01:17 PM   #3

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Originally Posted by AlpinLuke View Post
It's not a long time that this forum has put a limit [early 90's, 91 if I'm not wrong] as the latest "historical boundary" for threads.

Among the reasons, I guess there is also what you mention.

I can may an easy example thinking to Italian recent history. Until early 90's there were only rumors and clues about the activity of Soviet KGB in Italy, then a report [Mitrokin] came out from former USSR archives ... and we had historical proves about that.

Generally I think that until a power is alive the "secrets" [the reserved materials behind important decisions] won't be available for historians, and after the end of the power, historians will have to count on luck: archives can be destroyed or lost ...
I have a Professor who is a Russian Specialist. She has talked about the boon of some of the Archives opening up, but she agrees, it's going to take time and luck before they all come out.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 01:18 PM   #4

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Buflineks View Post
As a current grad student, I am regularly involved in discussions with fellow students about Historiography, Research, and current Narratives. As one who is specializing in U.S. Colonial, Revolution, and Early Republic, I find that my discussion with those who study the Modern era ( in this case I would say 1900- present) really become interesting when we talk about things such as WWII, Cold War, and Post-Cold War History.

To be honest, I don't really envy those who are in these areas. Despite some disclosures by various govrnments throughtout the world, there is no doubt that many important historical documents that could help explain actions are still "classified" and we will never see them in our lifetime. With that, the modern historical debates are very intense and sometimes very incomplete.

My question for the forum is this:

When discussing modern History, are you cognative of possibility that the information you have when discussing these events is probably not complete and are you willing to concede that the information isn't all in and any premise you present is incomplete due to this factor?
Can't the same be said of colonial subjects? We must work with what is available, even though what is available isn't everything that was created. I would use the European-Native American interaction as a specific example. We write, discuss and make judgements based on the information we have, knowing that there was probably more out there or that there could be (by some chance) more undiscovered information. Although the cases are a little different based on whether or not the information exists vs. whether it is available, the concept of establishing ideas while understanding that the ideas may not be exact is still there.

I would imagine that historians who view their idea as the one and only idea are bound to fail. The study of history is full of uncertainty and likely the most concrete information consists of solid facts, dates, names and places. Everything else is subject to intepretation.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 01:33 PM   #5
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I am not a historian. But I have been studying the history of colonial America lately. I find the same thing clouds the history of this period as clouds modern history.

Human motivations.

History as a study amounts to searching for "recorded facts", and then trying to connect the dots. We are forced to make a lot of assumptions, based on our best knowledge and understanding. Doesn't matter whether it's ancient China, medieval Europe, or czarist Russia.

Because we simply don't know what people were thinking and what their secret motives were.

I know that I do not think in the same way, have the same perspectives on the world that the early English settlers of Massachusetts had. But I don't know how that thinking is different. I can't live in their heads.

Even today, I can go to a town meeting in my small town, and the same thing holds true. Why is John Smith supporting the restrictions on water use? He has motives, undisclosed, but it is very difficult to know what they are. And it is those motives that move history.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 04:11 PM   #6

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Can't the same be said of colonial subjects? .
Well, there are probably undiscovered resources.

My point here is not that it is any easier to find and diseminate the information, but i.e. There are documents related to WWII that are still classified by the U.S. and British governments. In addition, in the U.S. some FOI suits can be shot down in those areas just because of "National Security" issues.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 04:27 PM   #7

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Buflineks View Post
Well, there are probably undiscovered resources.

My point here is not that it is any easier to find and diseminate the information, but i.e. There are documents related to WWII that are still classified by the U.S. and British governments. In addition, in the U.S. some FOI suits can be shot down in those areas just because of "National Security" issues.
Yes, I understand that. I think a lot of research focused around classified resources turn into government conspiracy theories The question becomes, is the available information substantial enough to create valid arguments and conclusions? I think researchers and historians alike tend to jump the gun and it seems risky to me to focus on classified subjects, or at least subjects where a great deal of the most significant information is classified.

I had an undergraduate professor who studied the Prussian military model and was quite thrilled when the German archives opened up after the fall of the Berlin Wall. As someone else posted, I too had a professor whose area of focus was Russian gender and race studies. She drooled at the thought of the archives opening but wasn't planning on it anytime soon.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 04:56 PM   #8

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Buflineks View Post
Well, there are probably undiscovered resources.

My point here is not that it is any easier to find and diseminate the information, but i.e. There are documents related to WWII that are still classified by the U.S. and British governments. In addition, in the U.S. some FOI suits can be shot down in those areas just because of "National Security" issues.
That is because the sovereign states, like the U.S., has the inherent power to curtail the public from obtaining access over information which shall be against the public interest or national interest. It is akin to a situation wherein the cops are rescuing the hostages and that the procedure is covered by the media and the terrorists are watching it on the television screen.
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Old July 31st, 2012, 05:26 PM   #9

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That is because the sovereign states, like the U.S., has the inherent power to curtail the public from obtaining access over information which shall be against the public interest or national interest. It is akin to a situation wherein the cops are rescuing the hostages and that the procedure is covered by the media and the terrorists are watching it on the television screen.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not advocating release of this material that the government deems "confidential".

This is entirely a theoretical discussion on modern historians, their methodologies, and frustrations they may have.
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