Can History Be Objective?

Feb 2019
7
netherlands
#1
Hello all,

I've just watched the following vid:
It argues that there is objectivity to be found in historical research but that truth ultimately is agreed upon.

During my studies the word "objectivity" was always a kinda hot topic, but many of my professors avoided the term.
Do you think objectivity can be achieved at all in historical research or are we doomed to read history subjectively?
 
Jun 2013
454
Connecticut
#2
You are only correctly subjective when you are deciding to choose your topic. Anything else becomes an agenda to propigate a viewpoint. When you narrate your history you need all verified elements. The historian lists WHAT happened.

Example: In American history there is a period after the Civil War known as Reconstruction. For a hundred years in American historiogaphy it has been written that Reconstruction punished the former rebels by repressive military occupation and allowing former slaves, money and power hungry Northerners and Union sympathetic Southerners to rule.

Then the civil rights movement started in the 1960s. Historians began to wonder why this was going on. So they began to investigate the histories and noticed that Reconstruction history had two major dichotomies: North and South; black and white. They realized all the histories concerned North, South and whites. Nothing was really ever mentioned about blacks. They included the entire scope of facts from the time.

In the 50 years since, this entire history has been REVISED because a real objective viewpoint was done. It made mid-20th century Reconstruction history almost read like a fairy tale.
 
Nov 2018
188
Denmark
#4
In my opinion, complete objectivity in history is impossible. First, because the written sources are written by people who had an agenda.

Moreover, in older history we do not have full access to all sources (often not even in newer history), either because the tooth of the time has consumed them or because for one reason or another they have not been found worth copying.

The same with archaeological excavations. Even if you think you have the full picture of a society, there may still be something missing. Again, what is seen is in the eye of the beholder.

Of course, as mentioned in the video, it helps that the more eyes look at the material and the more debate and knowledge exchange, the more nuanced the picture of history.

However, if one think one can research history completely detached from the time and place one are at, then one is lying to himself.

Nevertheless, if only one realizes it to himself and others that one is not 100% objective, so I actually think it's okay.

To take an example in Denmark we had a historian Palle Lauring, which among many books also wrote a history of Denmark. And he really tried to tell objectively and weigh for and against Denmark on history's scales.
However, it also shone from the pages that his heart was with Denmark. And that enthusiasm was really catching and a topic that could otherwise have been boring made me and many of my generation to love history.
 

martin76

Ad Honorem
Dec 2014
6,251
Spain
#5
Impossible.. absolutly impossible... I hope humans invent Robots to study the reality.. the human being is not objecitve but subjective ... it never sees reality. only what he want to see. That is because History, Politics, Media, Justice etc are never objective but subjective...

For example, I think Trump is a great president...idiot and a professional clown ... but a great president .. he's leading the economy very well, he's a convinced pacifist ...however many people hate him.. only because they believe what Media say... So.. is he a good president or a bad president? It is not an objective issue... the History so never will be objective.. In fact, History is Propaganda and used as Political tool.

How we can judge somebody if we don´t know the truth.... in nothing....Why we speak (me the first one) about people we don´t know and we no nothing about their vital circumstances, social relations, prevailing thought schemes etc.

No, History and objective are antinomic concepts, such as justice and objectivity.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
25,617
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#7
Semiotics can help here: it's a doctrine developed by scholars who noted that there is a difference between the meaning of a text intended by the author and the meaning of a text understood by the reader.

It's unavoidable [Stephen King cannot be everywhere to explain what he meant!].

Historians are readers of texts written by dead persons. No way, historians change [even if just a bit] the original reality. There are even math formalism to measure this distortion.

The main parameters in a math formalism in this field are the reading keys. More they are clear and less important will be the potential distortion [pay attention: nothing excludes that a historian guesses the reality].
 
Likes: Tulius
Feb 2011
13,514
Perambulating in St James' Park
#9
History without objectivity would just be a page of dry facts. In order to interpret those facts (and that's where the disagreements begin) the historian must be objective. Unless there's an infallible sequence of logic to the evidence and sources then conjecture about motives etc creeps in.

Therefore, imho, you can't write history without putting your own slant on it. Just like news, even not taking a side is deciding to stay neutral and making a subjective choice.

Check out Evans, in defence of history.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Defence-History-Richard-J-Evans/dp/1862073953

E.H.Carr did some stuff too I think.
 
Sep 2015
1,676
England
#10
History without objectivity would just be a page of dry facts. In order to interpret those facts (and that's where the disagreements begin) the historian must be objective. Unless there's an infallible sequence of logic to the evidence and sources then conjecture about motives etc creeps in.

Therefore, imho, you can't write history without putting your own slant on it. Just like news, even not taking a side is deciding to stay neutral and making a subjective choice.

Check out Evans, in defence of history.
https://www.amazon.co.uk/Defence-History-Richard-J-Evans/dp/1862073953

E.H.Carr did some stuff too I think.
Yes exactly: 'the historian must be objective'. If they are not, then what do we have? of value??

A news event of course has the potential for significant variation, but again, if there is, then they can't all be right. It wouldn't add up to much for civilisation. generally and pervasively, if and when it is the case.
 

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