Historian: The new "Wise Man"? how are you viewed?

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
9,990
Damned England
Thanks very much!

I think that we're ALL right, re: historians finding the truth, simply because, as Ranke points out, there's rarely a 100% truth, and more commonly little truth at all. In our search for the truth- which I agree is our job- we would find out that there's not much objective truth out there! So we look for it, usually fail to find the 24 carat variety, but a good historian will realise and admit that the truth eludes us. Journos and propagandists live in much more black and white worlds.
 
Apr 2008
20
Canada
Ah, that's where we differ. I do not believe there is a single "Truth" out there to be discovered. Rather there are many truths, according to perspective and context, that change over time. For instance, witches were once considered a truth in the west, but generally speaking, no longer are today.
I also do not view history as a science, the task of which is to find natural laws to the development of human societies, and I don't believe in laws of history. Rather I see it as an art, or literary form, which is essentially a creative process. When I write "history," I marshall the evidence ("the facts" as I see them) and create an interpretation and representation of the past (not "the" past) in a narrative (literary) form. It is only the "truth" from my perspective (or at best a representation of my version of the truth). Anyone using the same sources could construct a very different narrative.
To use another artistic analogy. My text is like a canvas and can reflect different styles: realistic, impressionist, expressionist etc. An impressionist painting of an object can represent the truth as much as a realist painting can. In neither case it will ever be the object (i.e. the past), but just a representation of it.
No doubt this debate, with its origins in the works of Herodotus and Thycididies (sp?), will continue.
 
Mar 2008
401
Should historians be subversive?

No, they do tend to be looked on as such by some, politicians tend to write their own versions of history to suit their own creed so if a historian differs from that version they will be subversive I guess. Never trust perceived versions of history they are invariably wrong.

The “historical truth” will also depend on national and geographical variables. Sorry to use an American example but since most of the contributors seem to be from the US it would seem appropriate.

Those of you in the US would claim that the American Revolution/War of Independence was sparked of by American colonists throwing valuable tea in to Boston harbour to protest at tax rises. In fact the Tea Act actually reduced the price of tea sold in the Americas making it in fact cheaper, up to 50% than that bought in England. Why would this upset the Americans? Well it only really up set the disreputable merchants and of course the smugglers. Strange to think that the American Revolution/War of Independence was started by a bunch of crooks.

In fact some of the more honest merchants, backed by Benjamin Franklin went to the British government and offered to pay for the losses incurred by throwing the tea into the harbour. Sadly extremists wanted war so that was not to be.

As for taxation without representation, it should be pointed out that taxes in the American colonies were 5 times greater in 1698 than in 1773, and in Britain those taxes were much higher than in the American colonies. It is also a fact that the British government passed an act in February 1775, which stated that no colony which satisfactorily provided for the imperial defence and the upkeep of imperial officers would pay tax to them. So all they had to do was raise and pay for their own troops and there would be no taxation. Sadly extremists wanted war so that was not to be either. There were many different reasons for the American Revolution/War of Independence but looked honestly many were shall we say inaccurate?

In Britain’s more recent history, the same sorts of inaccuracies are noted. In 1979 the British elected Margaret Thatcher now nearly 30 years later it is perceived wisdom that she caused a record rise in inflation and cuts in pay for public sector workers. All of which is completely untrue, certainly inflation did rise to 20% if I remember rightly but only in the first few months of her government and therefore in reaction to the previous government’s actions, it then fell to a record low level. In fact the previous government had reached levels of 24%. Yet it is still perceived wisdom that it was Mrs Thatcher’s government.

As for not paying the public sector workers it was the previous government who refused to pay them the agreed pay rises (possibly the reason they lost so badly). Mrs Thatcher’s government paid all increases agreed and in some cases much more. Yet it is still perceived wisdom that it was Mrs Thatcher’s government who reneged on the agreements.

Bias is inevitable facts tend to be ignored quite regularly. What historians need to do is to try and find evidence from a great many different sources so that they can form a balanced view and not be afraid to say that is wrong. Be aware though that to contradict perceived wisdom can produce a reaction that is both vitriolic and at times plain silly.

Is there a single truth perhaps, but it argue that you have to decide whether history is a science or not. If it is not a science then there will be many versions of the truth as even using the same sources the historians opinions will colour the conclusion, but then debate is good for the soul don’t you think?
 

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
9,990
Damned England
I agree, Historian. A historian's job is not journalism, where one's writing often reflects the "in -house" prejudices of whoever pays you. Yes, truth is subjective, and often elusive, and in those situations, the historian should make this plain.

About Thatcher: yes, she got blamed for many failures by the previous governments, but they, in turn, were accused of "being soft" on the trade unions, whereas your example shows the truth of the matter: Labour tried to toughen up on unions.... and lost their voter base. Hence the almost inevitable "torification" of New Labour. Also, the Thatcher era did see sky high inflation, just as we have it now. It was cleverly disguised by not taking into account the cost of housing or personal debt. Given the stupid rise of house prices and the highest level of personal debt in Europe, and it's easy to see that inflation overall is very high. Blair and Brown just carried on where Thatcher and Major left off.

Didn't Churchill say, "History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it"? Let that be a warning to us all!
 
Mar 2008
401
House price rises peaked 36.2% under Heath in 1973 yet dropped dramatically under Labour yet inflation itself actually rose. By the time of the election in 1979 inflation was running much higher running at 17%. With the engineering union asked for 33% and the miners for 40% and the public sector workers asking for parity welcome to the 'Winter of Discontent’?

In mid 1979 house price rises were running at 29.3%, within a year of her election they were 21.2% and within 2 years they were 5.5%. By the end of Mrs Thatcher’s tenure it had risen to once again but never reached the 29%+ peaking at around 20% I think though that may have been under Major.

Mrs Thatcher is always associated with high inflation and mountains of rubbish in the streets, the disruption to essential services, bodies not being buried when in actual fact this all happen on Jim Callaghan’s watch

Inflation was running at 17% as Mrs Thatcher came to power, during the next six months it rose to 20% (as I said mainly due to the actions of the Callahan government) then the new government reforms kicked in and it began to fall.

By 1981 it was 12%, by 1983 it was under 3%, 1986 3.3% by 1990 it was 9% however a world recession had kicked in so everyone was suffering. It then began to fall yet again; by 1997 inflation peaked a 3.7% and fell to 3.4%.

By the time “New Labour” was elected in1997 Britain was experiencing a period of low inflation and low interest rates. If my memory serves it was this new labour government to removed high prices, and just about everything else fro the inflation rate calculation.

By the time “New Labour” was elected in1997 Britain was experiencing a period of low inflation and low interest rates. If my memory serves it was this new labour government that removed house prices, and just about everything else from the inflation rate calculation.

Inflation reached 24% in 1975 under labour; from the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979 it rose once to 20% and from then dropped dramatically during the whole of her tenure and until 1997. Yet she is claimed to have presided over a record breaking increase in inflation. History changed and within living memory weird!

The Consumer Price Index (CPI), the government's preferred measure of inflation, hovers around 2.5%, while the Retail Price Index (RPI) hovers around 4.1%, neither of these include mortgage payments. It is puzzling exactly what is included in calculating inflation as fuel prices have risen 100%, food prices up 15% yet according to the government inflation keeps falling even weirder.

It does show that perceived history is accepted easily and it does not take centuries but can happen within a life time.

A historian’s does have a duty to the truth, even subjective truth, but to actively subvert the truth for political or monetary reasons is unacceptable. An example is Robert’s “Eminent Churchillians” a blatant attempt to shock and frankly poor history and a rip off of Lytton Strachey's “Eminent Victorians” and equally nasty book but far better written.
 
Apr 2008
32
well, this has gotten abit off-topic.
just another "how should a historian present history?"


I was just asking, when people identify you with your intrest in history, how does that affect their views towards you?
more/less respect?
how? why?
 
Mar 2008
401
Zenjamin,

I would imagine how people’s views toward one’s self after identifying the fact of your interest in history would depend a great deal on how you present it.

Does the fact that history is an interest of mine mean people will respect me more or least; I have no idea, though I cannot see why it should make a difference either way.

I was once told that respect, like loyalty cannot be given it has to be earned and really can only be earned by giving respect and loyalty.
 
Apr 2008
32
I disagree. that seems a rather Idealist way of looking at it.



respect is to profession/hoby as looks are to love.


Anyone can get any girl by being honest and hard working. but being good looking will give you a head start.

Being a teacher will give people the initial impression of being noble of self sacrificing.
a lawyer may convince people that he is more noble then the teacher, and the teacher can also come across as greedy and ambitious if his actions prove him to be.

but still, everybody has initial Prejudices. profession/hobby is no exception, IMO.

When people think of a gamer, they might think of a pasty white nerd with little social life.
When people think of a Cop, they might think of a conservative, proud, man who is not verry tolerant of the way his house is run.
When people think of a historian without getting to "know" them, they might think of_______________
 

Black Dog

Ad Honorem
Mar 2008
9,990
Damned England
But isn't it also true that such attitudes are mere, lazy mental shortcuts, and whilst initially one may respect a person's profession based knowledge, nevertheless, experience of that person more often than not reduces that initial respect? And, of course, many professions have very little "stereotypical" respect, and instead have to attempt to gain respect despite their stereotype. Think lawyers, (here in the UK, few discerning people have any respect for them), politicians, sociologists and used car salesmen. I also suspect that some countries respect some professions more than others may do: your cop example is very telling in that respect: here, most of us regard our UK police as being ineffectual, lazy, red-tape loving jobsworths who are often no better than the people they arrest. Certainly not conservative or proud.

I can only speak for the UK, but I guess most people view historians as interesting, but also have a stereotype that they live in dusty, book filled cottages, and don't quite live in the real world, as if embracing the past is a rejection of the present and future. We're seen as slightly odd, but on the whole, that section of the population that likes history respects us: the rest just think that history is boring or irrelevant. Hence, so are historians. I also think (I could be wrong!) that we're more cynical about labels and suchlike here: people here in the UK would expect "proof" that one is a historian, such as qualifications or books published etc. They'd try to knock one's credentials. I don't think that we have the same respect for professionals in general as in the US. Teachers, for example, are badly thought of in general.
 
Mar 2008
401
Respect, like loyalty can only be purchased using the same coin. In other words to receive you must give.

As for the generalisations about people, gamers, police, conservatives, are just that generalisations and as BlackDog says are culturally and geographically bias.

To you in the US a conservative may mean all you say though I imagine that is a generalisation as well. In the UK perhaps the most intolerant and strangely enough resistant to change are the trade unions, particularly the far left variety, so by the standards you set it is the socialist/liberal types who are the “conservative” element.

A policeman does as BlackDog says not have a particularly good press, not their fault I would guess but silly rules they have to abide by.

As for respecting people because of their qualifications I find this in many cases to be a form of class discrimination. I know of one lecturer who has a PHD but I do not respect him or his opinions add to that he is invariably wrong of course he will never admit that and he is not unique. Yet some of the best and most incisive historians I have met have little or no qualifications. They are good because they are not hidebound by academic claptrap and think outside the box.

Strangely, though we Brits are supposed to be a class ridden society I have found during my trips to the US that class, be it academic qualifications, money or speaking well is far more important there than here.

If you want respect give respect, if you want loyalty be loyal it really is that simple.

Personality, gaining the respect of others is way down on my list, as long as I respect myself and what I believe and do I find others respect you.