Can History Be Objective?

Sep 2015
1,762
England
#92
Not relevant.

Right ?
See post 73: 'The challenge, besides often little to no or conflicting, evidence, is that most humans have a difficult time remaining objective, especially in areas where they have some personal connection/interest. Thus, we even see arguments over ancient history that seem to be colored by own's life experience or world view, often unconsciously. '

and therefore realise in the discussion...
 

Cepheus

Ad Honorem
Dec 2011
2,220
#93
See post 73: 'The challenge, besides often little to no or conflicting, evidence, is that most humans have a difficult time remaining objective, especially in areas where they have some personal connection/interest. Thus, we even see arguments over ancient history that seem to be colored by own's life experience or world view, often unconsciously. '

and therefore realise in the discussion...
So ?

That has nothing to do with the concept that READING history "implies the potential for the doctrinaire and the dogmatic, not the least the bigoted" in any more specific way than a multitude of other disciplines.

Therefore a trite generality that does not advance any point. Right ?

If not why am I wrong ?
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
26,214
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#96
See post 73: 'The challenge, besides often little to no or conflicting, evidence, is that most humans have a difficult time remaining objective, especially in areas where they have some personal connection/interest. Thus, we even see arguments over ancient history that seem to be colored by own's life experience or world view, often unconsciously. '

and therefore realise in the discussion...
I would restart from this, since someone mentioned post-modernism.

Actually this is pseudo-modernism, not post-modernism. But this is how our modern societies are developing. We are not refusing rationality, determinism, positivism ... we are ... partially doing this. Not totally. We are partially positivist and determinist and partially post-modern. This is what pseudo-modernism is.

In a pseudo-modernist perspective history cannot be objective, but only realistic within the limits of our own awareness.

Semiotics says that we encode a language in our culture [a culture is an encoded language, according to semiotics]. So we are dealing with cultures.

History is part of a culture [it's its "memory", actually]. So, at the end history is social, it's nor objective neither subjective. And there is an aspect of the present pseudo-modern societies: history is social.

I mean: in a modern society history would be elitist and academic. In a post modern society history would be popular and almost subjective. In a pseudo-modern society history can be only social. And this is what we can observe today.
 
Sep 2015
1,762
England
#97
I would restart from this, since someone mentioned post-modernism.

Actually this is pseudo-modernism, not post-modernism. But this is how our modern societies are developing. We are not refusing rationality, determinism, positivism ... we are ... partially doing this. Not totally. We are partially positivist and determinist and partially post-modern. This is what pseudo-modernism is.

In a pseudo-modernist perspective history cannot be objective, but only realistic within the limits of our own awareness.

Semiotics says that we encode a language in our culture [a culture is an encoded language, according to semiotics]. So we are dealing with cultures.

History is part of a culture [it's its "memory", actually]. So, at the end history is social, it's nor objective neither subjective. And there is an aspect of the present pseudo-modern societies: history is social.

I mean: in a modern society history would be elitist and academic. In a post modern society history would be popular and almost subjective. In a pseudo-modern society history can be only social. And this is what we can observe today.
I think the key point that has been raised in this thread, is that history (the writing of history), should be and really can only aim to be objective or impartial - the definition of subjective being not objective - but that some have been taught that this otherwise reasonable aim, is in fact unattainable (Jenkins said it was "spurious"), and that it is a science (of a sort).

And that it seems sensible, looking through all the posts in this thread, that in fact there is little on offer that seriously challenges the idea that history can indeed be objective/impartial. As people might expect ordinarily.

I refer to post 60. The quote that makes up most of the first paragraph is an exert from the preface to a book on my bookshelf. It's a single volume on the British Empire. And I have read several others. But since then, i have been reading more recently the 5 volume Oxford History of the British Empire. The constraints of space are more than obvious in this example. The fact that the previous books were written by different people, and the Oxford history tends to have a different person or persons writing each and every chapter! does not make each and every one of them subjective, by default. Above and beyond a purely intellectual approach, common sense (in my usage) says something like, different academics (professors even) can write books etc in different ways, but all end up with the same broad impression, making the same kinds of points. The "light touch" of administration in India, in one; `...it was possible for the British to think that India had never been so well goverened...' in a second; 'the most remarkable example of British policy [at this time] was the reinstatement of landholders and tax gatherers of Oudh, whom the Raj had [previously] dispossessed.' in another (amongst much else). It's all based on (much) realisable evidence, and is well known in the academy, and can therefore unproblematically be understood as broadly impartial. There are indeed emphases here and there. Sometimes the academic device of saying something slightly wrong or controversial is deployed, in order to make the reader sit up, pay attention, and do some thinking! or challenge your thinking, perhaps on occasion about trends.

However, one historian writes as follows: 'Historical writing about India under the Raj has been hag-ridden by the strong emotions that often inform ostensibly rational debates...Yet it would be futile to pretend that any historian can attempt to assess what actually happened without any trace of prejudice.' ....... !!!!! What an amazing thing to say! Just amazing !!!!! To state, quite freely, that perhaps every single book written about the British in India will have at least a trace of "bias with insufficient knowledge" or outright "unthinking hostility"! That the professors of the academic world miraculously, and this is most if not all of them, will definitely have "insufficient knowledge" of the subject they have written about... for real .... (with a bias of some sort?) ... or that they harbour a certain hostility ... !!!!! again beyond human imagination. Where does such a moronic statement derive from? Where is the moral intelligence? How does an academic (his name is Tapan Raychaudhuri writing in the Cambridge Illustrated History of the British Empire, which is presumably biased), end up with with such a daft state of mind? And that journey has led me into further enquiries as to why and how, and the answer i have found is, again, and again, ideology. Ideology.

One book i read about ethics and postmodernism talked about how objectivity Is spurious, and that all academic history is void. Yes. The whole lot. Every single one of them, have no real value, since none of them have gone through the "moment of undecidability" a thing invented my Michael Foucault at some point in time. And that's it...

So of course I have been somewhat stunned again and again encountering the influence these kinds of things appear to have had - in the minds of undergraduates, graduates, and in the wider world !

History is social, and society past and present, an imaginary of lived experience and context, all held together by events, and their consequences, patterns and trends, change and attempts at change etc. The writing of history can be subjective, and it can be objective or impartial, the latter because we are aware of our own self-awareness, aware and informed about such things as (apparent) unconscious bias, confirmation bias, and empathy (insula). What the guy from India said could make perfect sense if you think about it from his perspective, from an Hindustani perspective, or from an ideological perspective! A whole book made up of such stuff might be the basis of an hilarious and raucous (home) party making fun of the British; but an academic text that people can take seriously, that the academic community can take seriously, is another thing entirely, and so is the career of a professor, or would be professor with their reputations and lives to think of!
 
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sparky

Ad Honorem
Jan 2017
4,508
Sydney
#98
history is certainly commented upon from the mindscape of the observer
this is particularly acute on the motivations and motors of events
not so for the objective reality of the events themselves ,

history go from the pretty obvious to the speculative ,
there is not one history , rather a succession of levels , the deeper one go , the more controversy one raise

"X" political and /or economic control was waxing
they engaged in an affrontment with their neighbor "Y" whose control was waning
this confrontation resulted in a military campaign
the outcome was determined by both sides technology , logistics , the terrain and the ability of their respective commands
more or less
this is pretty solid facts , the motivations and long term results can and are discussed
the objective results are more clear cut
 
Oct 2011
200
Croatia
#99
Approach to history can be objective, but history itself - as a result of that approach - never can be. History is what we see in a mirror, darkly. It is necessarily warped, by a lack of sources, by subjectivity of those same sources... and those holes have to be filled through interpretation. Interpretation is automatically subjective. Of course, that does not mean that objective history, as an ideal, must not be sought; we just have to accept that it can never be achieved, only approached.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
26,214
Italy, Lago Maggiore
We can say that after an attempt to make rationality win and an attempt to make a more "humanistic" approach win, the present situation is that the two attitudes cohabit. If we want to go bach to post-modernism, we could say that after a modernist period and a post-modernist period, today we live in pseudo-modern societies.

In my opinion also historiograply has followed this evolution. And probably we shouldn't be stunned to see, in academic environment, rational and emotional [let's use these two adjective to make things very clear and simple] historical readings cohabiting.

From this pseudo-modern perspective, to expect history to be impartial and/or objective is a bit optimistic.

@Picard is right, in my opinion, about approach first and then interpretation. And this is why, at the end, I prefer to expect history to be "realistic" [in the sense of pragmatic, not in the sense of objective and impartial], being aware that "reality" depends on our perception of it, so on our awareness.

And about different perspectives, I could remind here a very nice example:

in US they talk about the "American Civil War", in Italy, on history books, it's the "American Secession War".

There is a remarkable difference between the two definitions, with really deep implications about how we read the events.
 

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