Historical Bias

May 2016
4,596
Portugal
#43
A user nicked “spy” that opens an account here to raise a 8 or 9 years old thread to post what he posted… I think he is deadly serious…. deadly serious…

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About the thread theme:

The thread is old but the theme is particularly actual and I guess that it was always present in history and it will be. The OP made it in a bit simple and manichaeistic (good v. bad) way but the bias it is always present in history, from the historian that writes it (or now the pseudo-historians that make some short videos), to the reader (or net consumer). The bias is manifested from the first moment when the historian selects a subject, a theme, a field of history to study and research. It is influenced by his personality, society, and so by his own past experiences.

Why today the main themes in history seem to be migrations, racial issues, genetics, gender themes, the history of the minorities, the causes of post-colonialism? Even when the historian wants to be as unbiased as possible, he is already conditioned by his society.
 
#44
During the mid 90's, I read through a six-volume series of books on the history of WW1, written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I wished I hadn't. He went on and on about "dastardly German atrocities" and "brave British lads". I've never read such biased and jingoistic trash in all my life. There are other history books.
 
Jun 2017
2,549
Connecticut
#45
Do we have biases when we study history? By that I mean, when we look at a conflict involving two countries or peoples, do we tend to think of one side as "the bad guy," and the other as "the good guy."

For Example.

Everyone knows WWII.
UK US are the good guys and Germany and Japan are the bad guys.Right?
But the UK had a huge chunk of the world conquered prior to WWII. They came out of WWI with more conquests than before, when Germany is often thought as the conquerer.
Japan was brutal and conquered a lot of Asia but most of the conquests were places that were just conquests of white peoples. Dutch East Indies, Phillipines, Indo-China, Burma, Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia. I'm not saying WW I and II shouldn't have been fought. I'm talking about the perception of our minds on good guy bad guy.

Persia vs Greece. Persia is the bad guy, but Greece is the good guy.
Alexander the Great is seen as some great guy conquering Persia. But then we have Ghengis Khan the conquerer. He's usually seen as some asiatic barbarian. Alexander brings light to the Middle East, but the Ottomans taking over Byzantium and moving toward Vienna are The Enemy At The Gate.

Cowboys and Indians is another classic. The Indians are the bad guys. They are savage and scalp people, and the murderous Cowboys and American Calvary committing genocide are the brave good guys.

The Islamic Empire. The Muslims come into France but are stopped by the brave Charles The Hammer Martel. Whew! He saved France from the barbarians. Meanwhile Cordova in Islamic Spain becomes the jewel of Europe. And Baghdad is the center of the world's learning.
Brave Richard the LionHeart leads the Crusade against the Muslims, who see the Europeans the same way the Europeans see the vikings. A bunch of barbarians bringing nothing but death.

Brave Israel is beseiged by the Arabs. (This is one that I was seriously mistaken about for a very long time:( ). Meanwhile the Palestinians are stuck in a network of prison walls and getting pulverized by Israel's firepower and determination to wipe them out.

Then there's the Yellow Menace of the early 1900's. However it was the Europeans who tried carving China up.

As Historians should we be fighting against these biases? Should we talk about history is a more neutral way?
In history class, I learned bias is fine and natural, the term sounds awful though. Every historian will have a bias, that bias is probably what leads them to examine the past in the a certain way in the first place. As long as they don't use the bias as motivation to see things that aren't there everything's fine. Bias is fine the issue is whether the bias leads to incorrect history. But no history will be unbiased. Bias though in the eyes of each person who holds it is justified.

WWII is a terrible example because it's the most morally clear cut conflict perhaps in the history of humanity. WWI is far better and over the course of my life I've changed from thinking the Allies were the good guys and Germany and Austria started the war to thinking that France and the UK were the main instigators and the Allied victory might be the most damaging outcome of any war. Much more ambiguous conflict. The good versus evil trope fits in far better with WWII. The Axis were not fighting to liberate the UK's colonies, I'm no UK colonial empire defender but the Axis either were going to ignore the British Empire or treat it considerably worse. Japan's human rights abuses in China for example are something that primary sources reveal appaled even the handful of Nazi's present.

The other examples I largely agree with you on.
 
Likes: Talbot Vilna
Jun 2017
2,549
Connecticut
#46
I think contemporary conflicts are seen as good v bad - this is necessary in order to drum up support and feeling for the war. By the time these conflicts have passed into history, however, this ceases to be the case. Rarely in any study of WWII will you read historians describing Hitler in terms of good and evil - it is left to the layman to use such terms who maybe wants to make an appeal to emotions. No serious study of past conflicts ever presents it in terms of good and bad.

As for the colonisation of America, it is simply a matter of perception. Because the United States and Canada are seen to be more successful than the South American or Latin American nations, people have mistakenly assumed that the British were better colonizers than the Spanish. The reputation of the Conquistadors has probably contributed to this perception, but their notereity has as much to do with time and place as it has with nationality. In other words, had it been British adventurers forging their way through the South American hinterland in the 16th century we may just as easily have been reading about their atrocities and greed. British colonialism didnt really take off until the late 18th century, by which time enlightenment values had begun to permeate through society - hence the perception that the British were more moderate colonizers.
The Spanish weren't trying to make colonies. In the US the settlement of the new world is taught as some sort of race as if everyone had the same goal. The Aztec and Incan empires were conquered by accident/in direct contradiction of orders and just ended up with two conquered empires. The English, Portuguese and French didn't have this unplanned situation and settled the new world for settlement and/or trade. They were not ruling over the Natives, the Natives remained foreign opponents/allies/entities.

But yes the British Empire and Anglo bias in history is almost as huge as Greco-Roman bias and might be greater by the merit of being more subtle. England prior to industrialization was not a great power more similar to a Portugal or Netherlands than a Spain, France or Germany. The British Empire rose and fell in the space of about a century and the British Empire's record breaking mass included gigantic uninhabited areas such as Canada and Australia that by themselves would constitute some of the largest empires in all of history. Yet the "sun always shined on the British Empire".
 

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