Should historians even strive to be objective?

Nov 2014
412
ph
#1
Should historians even strive to be objective? As long as they are not outright lying about events, for example Holocaust denial, or say, saying that Carrhae, Trasimene, and Trebia were decisive Roman victoris. Given that the most famous and august historians of classical antiquity like Heredotus, Livy, Arrian, and Xenophon were known to be biased for their home civilization. I mean perhaps we should not find it morally repugnant that a British historian would take a pro-British empire line with regards to Aboriginal history, while an Aboriginal historian would generally take a pro-Aboriginal line, like Arrian taking a pro-Macedonian bias in Anabasis, or Xenophon having a pro-Greek bias vs. the Persians, as long as you are not dealing outright fabrication. I mean throughout history, it has been a given that historians from a particular side would have a certain spin to their work, which did not detract from their reputation, unlike today.
 

pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,368
#2
Should historians even strive to be objective? As long as they are not outright lying about events, for example Holocaust denial, or say, saying that Carrhae, Trasimene, and Trebia were decisive Roman victoris. Given that the most famous and august historians of classical antiquity like Heredotus, Livy, Arrian, and Xenophon were known to be biased for their home civilization. I mean perhaps we should not find it morally repugnant that a British historian would take a pro-British empire line with regards to Aboriginal history, while an Aboriginal historian would generally take a pro-Aboriginal line, like Arrian taking a pro-Macedonian bias in Anabasis, or Xenophon having a pro-Greek bias vs. the Persians, as long as you are not dealing outright fabrication. I mean throughout history, it has been a given that historians from a particular side would have a certain spin to their work, which did not detract from their reputation, unlike today.
e.Being deliberately misleading is the same as out right lying. It's harder to detect and more likely to be accepted and in teh end creates functional history. Either you are committed to warts and all attempt at honestly or you are a propagandist. There is no middle ground of lying and fudging a bit.
 
Likes: No Bias FTW
#3
e.Being deliberately misleading is the same as out right lying. It's harder to detect and more likely to be accepted and in teh end creates functional history. Either you are committed to warts and all attempt at honestly or you are a propagandist. There is no middle ground of lying and fudging a bit.
This pretty much. Bias will continue to exist but it is always an improvement for the sake of the facts when you:
1. Acknowledge the greater 'non-biasness'/accountability when seen in other individuals.
2. Try your genuine best to emulate such 'non-biasness'/accountability.
 

Tulius

Ad Honorem
May 2016
5,699
Portugal
#4
Should historians even strive to be objective? As long as they are not outright lying about events, for example Holocaust denial, or say, saying that Carrhae, Trasimene, and Trebia were decisive Roman victoris. Given that the most famous and august historians of classical antiquity like Heredotus, Livy, Arrian, and Xenophon were known to be biased for their home civilization. I mean perhaps we should not find it morally repugnant that a British historian would take a pro-British empire line with regards to Aboriginal history, while an Aboriginal historian would generally take a pro-Aboriginal line, like Arrian taking a pro-Macedonian bias in Anabasis, or Xenophon having a pro-Greek bias vs. the Persians, as long as you are not dealing outright fabrication. I mean throughout history, it has been a given that historians from a particular side would have a certain spin to their work, which did not detract from their reputation, unlike today.
This seems a biased statement against historians and a hymn to pseudo-history.

First we have to make a distinction of the “historians” of the Ancient period, from the ones post-19th century, when the scientific methods begun do be used in history: See: Positivism.

Than, all historians are biased, the historians are humans, and humans are biased. Any human being has a creed of values, is inserted in a society and influenced by it. That doesn’t imply that in his work, the historian, using its methodology, will not try and often reach to detach himself, at least partially from it. And even if he is biased his conclusions can be an approach to the knowledge of the human past. It depends of how his work was done, it depends if he used the right tools.
 
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pugsville

Ad Honorem
Oct 2010
9,368
#5
I like Petrie as a Napoleonic historian the discussing numbers, soucres and why he goes with figures he does, why he beleives some story and discusses the evdidence (eg Napoloen being sick after Dresden he dismisses after examining and discussing the evidence. )

Historians can give more focused on stories from a viewpoint but they should be aware and upfront about it. And hopefully contextualize what they are doing. For example an Australian Historian may focus on Australian experience at Gallipoli and tell the campaign from Australian perspective but would expect that the Australian effort be put in context if overall numbers of Australians versus others, and at relevant pionts some acknowledge and reference to the New Zelanders, Turks, British, French and other perspectives and viewpoints. It's Ok to have a focus on a particularity viewpoint but acknowledge and contextualization is important. Though perosnally I find History of the campaign without a strong national focus generally preferable.
 
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Likes: No Bias FTW
Nov 2016
970
Germany
#6
Should historians even strive to be objective?
A discussion about the possibility or impossibility of objectivity always suffers from the paradox of the self-referentiality of a statement that claims to be subjectively limited over all statements. So whoever claims, as all users in this thread have done so far, that a human being cannot make any other statements than subjective ones, is making a subjective statement himself, which logically cannot claim any objective validity.

It follows from this that an absolute contrast between objectivity and subjectivity is illusory and is of little use as a basic concept for such a debate. We should therefore have the courage and the consequence to attribute the potential for truth (objectivity) to subjectivity. Connected to this is the necessity to set certain premises (axioms) on the basis of which historical events and development are ordered and interpreted. From a modern point of view, human rights are without doubt the core of such a set of premises.

So the question is not whether historical science can be objective (which leads to the dilemma mentioned), but whether human rights are acceptable or even necessary as a basis or framework for historical analysts, i.e. as a basis or framework to which we grant absolute validity and not only a relative one.

A user has placed a historian who judges from the Aboriginal perspective on the same level as a historian who writes from a Western perspective. I ask: Can one really do that in good conscience? Let's look at a few examples from the Aboriginal culture that psychohistorian Lloyd DeMause cites in his book FOUNDATIONS OF PSYCHOHISTORY:

As the best-documented hunting and gathering groups are the Australian aborigines, I will analyze them in some detail and only briefly touch on other hunting cultures to extend the patterns found among Australian tribes. To begin with, the childhood of Australian aborigines, like that of all contemporary hunter-gatherers,(112) is in the infanticidal mode. That is, they not only kill a large proportion of their newborn without remorse, but also treat those they do bring up with a combination of severe neglect, physical and emotional abuse, and symbiotic clinging. To begin with, many Australian tribes until recently ate their children, not from food hunger but from object hunger, so poorly differentiated were they from others. Some ate the fetus itself, procuring abortions for this purpose by pressing the pregnant mother's abdomen and pulling the fetus out by the head.(113) Others ate every second child, out of what they called "baby hunger," forcing their other children to share in the feast.(114) (That the anthropologist who described these habits concluded that parental cannibalism of children "doesn't seem to have affected the personality development" and that these are really "good mothers [who] eat their own children"(115) is more a commentary on the quality of anthropological research than on aboriginal reality.)

The most trustworthy field study of aboriginal childrearing, that of Arthur Hippler, concludes that mothers are "neglectful" of the child, with "routinely brutal" abuse of very young infants varying with "overt neglect" and the use of the breast as a control device.(116) Empathy is so absent that he states "I never observed a single adult Yolngu caretaker of any age or sex walking a toddler around, showing him the world, explaining things to him and empathizing with his needs. While categorical statements are most risky, I am most certain of this." He further says that every movement toward independence by the growing child is experienced by the mother as abandonment of her by the child, and since the world is regularly portrayed as "dangerous and hostile, full of demons," little individuation can take place. The growing child is then routinely sexually stimulated by both parents, beaten up and sexually abused by older children, and terrified by others in the group, so that it is not surprising that the result is an adult who employs magical thinking, psychologically as well as technologically very primitive.

Because of this infanticidal childrearing, the original terrifying fetal experience is little modified, only reinforced by equally terrifying parenting. Because the parent is virtually as infantile and needy as the newborn, the adult superego of every individual is as punitive and persecutory as that of psychotics in modern society. Like all hunters, the mind of the aborigine is characterized by massive splitting and projection rather than repression, by the use of the archaic defense mechanisms of grandiosity and omnipotence, by uncertain self-object boundaries, by a confusion of sexual zones and a predominance of rape fantasies, and by an adult life full of paranoid fantasies which require continuous undoing rituals to ward off omnipresent persecutory anxiety.

Of course, we could make a desperate effort not only to look at the perspective of such a culture "objectively" (i.e. to repress our horror at such practices), but also to take the perspective of a (hypothetical) Aboriginal historian just as seriously as that of a human rights-oriented Western historian. Only this kind of tolerance would be an intellectual dislocation or self-castration and not a serious intellectual attitude, I think.

The key word in historical science is thus "emancipation", i.e. liberation from circumstances that violate human rights.

The term emancipation goes back to an expression of Roman private law, emancipatio, which describes the process of releasing a member of a Roman family from the violence (patria potestas) of the head of the family (pater familias). This can concern a slave in the event of release, the wife in the event of divorce and an adult son in the event of majority. Those who are subject to patria potestas are alieni iuris, foreigners, i.e. they do not or not fully dispose of their own person. On the other hand, the status of those who are not in the power of the pater familias is sui iuris, they are self-entitled. The concept of violence must be understood here physically: Not only slaves, but also wives and children may sometimes be subjected to very harsh physical punishments if the head of the family sees their behaviour as impairing the order of his house.

Since the 18th century 'emancipation' has meant the liberation of the subject from compulsive social conditions. Compulsive and arbitrary, i.e. not necessary, are social constellations which are based on a position of power achieved by the use of subtle or even less subtle means of violence of a part of social totality which controls and controls the other part in a way which is incompatible with the principle of human dignity, and thus also with the dignity of those controlled and controlled human beings. The control and subtlety of the means can extend so far that many of those controlled do not even have a clear awareness of their subjection. Only a critical view, which overlooks and sees through the connections, can distinguish the pathologizing effects of the aforementioned coercive relationships as such from the background of cultural restrictions, which do not need to be questioned.

What does all this have to do with learning from history?

A great deal when the statement of the developmental psychologist Jean Piaget is taken as a basis that, if one wants to understand something, one should look at how it came into being. A recognition guided by emancipatory interest, when it looks for causes of social repression, will always find what it is looking for in history, and will find that those causes continue to have an effect in the present through the centuries and possibly millennia. To illustrate a biological analogy: The pleasurable speed rush, which captures the human being while driving a sports car, goes back to the excitement of the reptilian brain (= brain stem), which forms the oldest part of the human brain. When we lawn, the reptile awakens in us. Whoever is aware of this, who has "learned" this, has a better chance of freeing himself from the craving for speeding (to "emancipate") than someone who does not know about this connection.

Habermas calls Freudian psychoanalysis related to the subject's micro-history as an analogy to emancipatory recognition related to macro-history. The patient becomes aware of his traumas and can thus free himself from the inner coercive relationships - at least this is the claim of psychoanalysis. In historical recognition, too, the analysis of causalities can lead to the dissolution of structural distortions if the "learned" is concretized via political practice. But our question is not about concretising what has been learned - it is only about the possibility of learning itself, i.e. of recognising social-pathological contexts and their causes.
 
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Likes: Niobe
Oct 2016
136
Ashland
#7
IMO, Historians are like any other writers: if you can tell their sex, ethnicity or politics from reading their work(not their Bio), they are not properly doing their job. As important as their education, the quality of their research or their native intelligence is their ability to first define (to themselves), then hide their 'perspective'.
'The artist, like the God of creation, remains within or behind or beyond or above his handiwork, invisible, refined out of existence, indifferent, paring his fingernails.'
JAMES JOYCE, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Otherwise we have Hunter Thompson(r.i.p.) style 'Gonzo History.' This is ,of course, quite common in the 'Pop' side of things.
 
Nov 2016
970
Germany
#8
if you can tell their sex, ethnicity or politics from reading their work(not their Bio), they are not properly doing their job. As important as their education, the quality of their research or their native intelligence is their ability to first define (to themselves), then hide their 'perspective'.
I think there are two kinds of historians.

What you're alluding to is the positivist kind that strives for value-free neutrality.

But these are only the data providers of the other second kind of historians, who are concerned with interpretation and analysis and who try to make visible the causes of perversions and unnecessary human suffering, so that what is called ´learning from history´ is possible.

In this respect, the positivist historians are simply tame, they have no punch.
 
Jun 2017
414
maine
#9
I think there are two kinds of historians.

What you're alluding to is the positivist kind that strives for value-free neutrality.

But these are only the data providers of the other second kind of historians, who are concerned with interpretation and analysis and who try to make visible the causes of perversions and unnecessary human suffering, so that what is called ´learning from history´ is possible.

In this respect, the positivist historians are simply tame, they have no punch.
Perhaps you are confusing a reporter with an opinion editor. The former relays the facts and the latter tells you how to interpret them. The historian does both. A good historian does so without taking sides.
 

Kirialax

Ad Honorem
Dec 2009
4,852
Blachernai
#10
Just because objectivity is impossible does not mean that it should not be the goal.

My general approach to this is that history is messy, with very few clear-cut lines. If an account is very clean, then the historian is not doing their job all that well.
 
Likes: duncanness