Can History Be Objective?

Apr 2018
525
Upland, Sweden
#21
Like a religion?

If you are influenced by an ideology that hates other people, then you may well be passionate about it; but if (there is a likelihood) it clashes with civilised values, civil society, democracy and the rule of law, your instincts, education and self-awareness should lead you to appreciate that we have a problem.
Yes, like a religion for example.

What do the concepts and values you speak of mean outside of their historical context? What is civilized society? What is the rule of law? What is democracy? How do you know, a priori that they are good (supposing we can define them)? I am not saying your values are somehow faulty, I just don't think one should assume these concepts as timeless constants in the historian's way of looking at the world.

While I would agree with you that most marxists seem disingenous and to be motivated by something else... Not all are. Eric Hobsbawm for example, was a pretty interesting guy, who wrote quite well about modern history, despite being as communist as they come.
 
Sep 2015
1,602
England
#22
Yes, like a religion for example.

What do the concepts and values you speak of mean outside of their historical context? What is civilized society? What is the rule of law? What is democracy? How do you know, a priori that they are good (supposing we can define them)? I am not saying your values are somehow faulty, I just don't think one should assume these concepts as timeless constants in the historian's way of looking at the world.

While I would agree with you that most marxists seem disingenous and to be motivated by something else... Not all are. Eric Hobsbawm for example, was a pretty interesting guy, who wrote quite well about modern history, despite being as communist as they come.
How would you propose we organise a new society populating a habitable Mars, sometime in the future!? That society (of people) will have a collective business. That business will have to be decided by some means.

Whatever is decided is of a power. Power always tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. That is the crucial, profound, existential fact of human life and society, and which is found throughout history and the reading of history. imu.

It would appear that there are no alternatives, no options out, no avoiding the issue.
 
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AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,977
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#23
History stays in the field of the "human sciences" or "scientific doctrines". Even if the exact sciences are aiding historians and archaeologists more and more, since history deals with human behaviors [like economy, just to make a comparison] it cannot generate a system of math formulas and equations [no math formalism can describe with accuracy a historical process, we can obtain a statistical function which describes the general trend, nothing more]. And of course theories can be impossible to be verified [are we going to gather 30,000 farmers to send them to Egypt to cut stone blocks like they did in the age of Khufu ... making them build an other Great Pyramid, just to verify the theories about how much time did it take to build the original Great Pyramid? I don't think so ...].

When human behavior is involved an observer shouldn't say "I'm objective". The best thing to do, in my subjective opinion, is to be realistic. At least we would limit the problem to the perception of reality [which is anyway a problem for the one who describes an event].

This doesn't mean that history cannot be accurate, on the contrary. Modern historians enjoy a lot of technological aids and they can be well more near to reality than in the past. Furthermore, ideological and political influences on historians are fortunately diminishing, even if not all around the world. So I would comment that today history is more realistic, not exactly objective.
 
Likes: Runa
Sep 2015
1,602
England
#24
History stays in the field of the "human sciences" or "scientific doctrines". Even if the exact sciences are aiding historians and archaeologists more and more, since history deals with human behaviors [like economy, just to make a comparison] it cannot generate a system of math formulas and equations [no math formalism can describe with accuracy a historical process, we can obtain a statistical function which describes the general trend, nothing more]. And of course theories can be impossible to be verified [are we going to gather 30,000 farmers to send them to Egypt to cut stone blocks like they did in the age of Khufu ... making them build an other Great Pyramid, just to verify the theories about how much time did it take to build the original Great Pyramid? I don't think so ...].

When human behavior is involved an observer shouldn't say "I'm objective". The best thing to do, in my subjective opinion, is to be realistic. At least we would limit the problem to the perception of reality [which is anyway a problem for the one who describes an event].

This doesn't mean that history cannot be accurate, on the contrary. Modern historians enjoy a lot of technological aids and they can be well more near to reality than in the past. Furthermore, ideological and political influences on historians are fortunately diminishing, even if not all around the world. So I would comment that today history is more realistic, not exactly objective.
To break down the clip in the OP:
When we read history, we believe it, blindly: What laughable nonsense. This is a prejudical statement by definition in the first place, and he should therefore know better. Prejudice is ignorance is it not. He didn't even bother with adding in 'some people', or 'many' etc. And moreover he appears to base the statement on a particular fact, that concerns people writing history: that they are all (most/many) are, or will be in some way disingenuous. If you think you have gained an understanding of a question in history, and write your paper advocating your insight, but after a proper/full scholarly enquiry you discover factors that compromise your original understanding, the paper may end up rather subjective. By leaving out otherwise pertinent factors. But this is merely poor scholarship, and peer review should highlight the fact. The objective is objectivity: not depending on, or influenced by personal opinion or prejudice.
To believe it is truly, genuinely unattainable, beyond human capacity, (it happens every day in courts of law, criminal or civil), is based on a technicality - a court case that has been thrown out on a technicality such as in an American crime drama, where the officer didn't have a correct warrant to search a premises...for example.
No we do not believe it (history books) blindly. If we read Shashi Tharoor and accept every word as gospel then that is the fact. But how we reckon with things when we encounter evidence to the contrary, that is clearly the moment in a (discursive) reading of history. Firstly to assume the contrary version is merely a version, a subjective thing only, is childish, silly, ignorant (dare i say it). It is a shrill claim in order to discredit/marginalise the contrary paper, and raise up (your) first paper to equal consideration thereby. Technically any mad nonsense can present its ideas on an 'equal platform', with an equal status, with equal consideration as any other, if everything is merely subjective. The contrary version cannot by definition be 'proper/academic' history (via the criteria, via the ideology).
If the prosecution or defense presents their case with a profound lack of evidence, that also leaves out fundamental evidence that is otherwise to their case (talking about the prosecution, if you will), the case was heard in the same court room, as the defense; but the lawyer can have a dreadful reputation immediately thereafter via peer review, the press, and the grape vine. The prosecution case was like a bad a joke, it is ridiculed, it is not taken as serious.
To state that every history book is merely subjective, is to attempt to discredit/marginalise the case put by the defense (before they have even presented it), technically just another defense, but in our example with extensive evidence - from post-mortems, dna etc etc - and therefore rather objective, surely? And history has its post-mortems, its dna, and its objective reading of the evidence, and in respect of an intelligent scholarly appreciation of the limitations of the evidence we have. Ancient history - Greek or Roman for example - is a perfect example of what history often is to varying degrees. We know as a fact, there was (further) evidence at one time, but it was subsequently lost, and is not available to us at this time. This is a fact of life for ancient historians, and any reading of ancient history.
 
Aug 2011
1,610
Sweden
#25
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?
No. I doubt that future's view on Trump will be much less subjectively that of for example Alexander the Great.
 

AlpinLuke

Ad Honoris
Oct 2011
24,977
Lago Maggiore, Italy
#26
We could write a river of words about our habit to use that "great" ...

I will just underline that "Ramses II the Great" wasn't "Ramses II the Great" ...

He has never been second [that is to say "II"] and he has never been defined "great" in his time.

He was "Usermaatre Setepenre Ramses Meriamon " and that was enough for the people of Kemet.

So ... when on history books we read that Ramses II the Great did this or that, actually we are reading about a "version" of the original personage totally invented in a later historical moment. If we talk about Ramses Meriamon we are realistic, if we talk about Ramses II the Great we are ... objective in a subjective way!
 
Jun 2013
431
Connecticut
#27
This idea that history cannot be objective is only about 100 yrs old in historiography. This position countered the 19th century idea of historical objectivity which developed when modern history became a discipline.

Could this "subjectivity factor" in history, developed over a century, contributed to history no longer having value today? We know that in school systems history is no longer taught in depth because there is no concrete return-on-investment for the subject.The bare basics are taught and only as a "preface" to aid the social sciences children are taught. An example would be government and politics, formally known as "civics".

Could this "subjectivity factor" made history more into stories rather than history? Maybe today's youth, and adults for that matter, think there are far better stories to be had in fiction, The Game of Thrones or Assassin's Creed. There's much more interesting venues than history.

What about this forum? Do you think over time "subjectivity" has relegated history to just a hobby and nothing more? It's value, at least to us who enjoy history, is that of a hobby.
 
Nov 2018
124
Denmark
#28
Of course, history must be as objective as possible; otherwise, one might as well see Games of Thrones or read Grimm's fairy tales.

However, one must also realize that no matter how objective one is trying to be, one will have a blind spot, where one writes from the person one is and the culture one grew up.

It does not mean one has to go to the other extreme and write with ones feelings.

It is probably the worst thing that has happened in the last few decades that people deny facts because they feel that it should be different. And not just in history.

In addition, not only that, they become really aggressive when others refuse to participate in their delusions.

As far as usability of history is concerned, I mean that if you do not know the past, you also do not understand the present and then how can you help to create the future?
 

Larrey

Ad Honorem
Sep 2011
4,949
#29
It certainly can be sourced and fact-based. Which in fact would seem to be rather more important for its value and credibility than these rather sterile debates about the concept of objectivity.
 
Sep 2015
1,602
England
#30
This idea that history cannot be objective is only about 100 yrs old in historiography. This position countered the 19th century idea of historical objectivity which developed when modern history became a discipline.

Could this "subjectivity factor" in history, developed over a century, contributed to history no longer having value today? We know that in school systems history is no longer taught in depth because there is no concrete return-on-investment for the subject.The bare basics are taught and only as a "preface" to aid the social sciences children are taught. An example would be government and politics, formally known as "civics".

Could this "subjectivity factor" made history more into stories rather than history? Maybe today's youth, and adults for that matter, think there are far better stories to be had in fiction, The Game of Thrones or Assassin's Creed. There's much more interesting venues than history.

What about this forum? Do you think over time "subjectivity" has relegated history to just a hobby and nothing more? It's value, at least to us who enjoy history, is that of a hobby.
Surely it is the study of the experience of human nature? How else can we be studied !?
 

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