- Oct 2011
- Italy, Lago Maggiore
There are different opinions about which should be the social function of history. Personally I tend to think that history is the memory of a society [and, by extension, of whole mankind]. As the personality of an individual is largely based on his memory [we have to remember our experiences, our identity, our knowledge ... to be ourselves] the culture of a society is largely based on his history [national identity included, this is why, as we can see also on Historum, politics tries and influence historiography].I'm most interested in this thread as it raises the questions I have been wanting to ask of professional historians. I am not, I am simply someone who peripherally studied and loved history all of my life.
So I ask a question as someone who is looking outside into history; what is it that society as a whole should rationally expect from history?
I do not expect from history a scientific response, I don't believe that is possible. From the standpoint of any event occurring, the interpretation of what occurred, much less it's meaning will be colored by the confirmation bias, or cognitive bias of the individuals reporting it. As I once pointed out to a journalist, no one writes any story that doesn't contain their biases, no matter how diligently they work to hide them; their choices of nouns, verbs, adjectives, pronouns, and adverbs will disclose those facts to those willing to discern them.
We are left to evaluate those many opinions, as individuals who must determine their value, and in fact I am dependent on the disparate dispersal of those reporting to help me to more clearly see an event.
For most people, right or wrong, history should be the story of what happened and what worked, and what failed, and hopefully, why. A tall order for historians, and I sense that it is one most would prefer to evade, should they?
In good substance humans need to know from where they came and who they are. History tells us this. Can we really learn from our past mistakes? About this I allow myself to doubt a bit: during history we have repeated and repeated the same mistakes, regardless historians and chronicles. For example: today we've got the paranoia of the human influence on climate, but Romans destroyed a good part of the post-glacial continental forests because they needed land to cultivate and wood for their constructions and machinery. Today we say "Romans did a wrong thing", but what have we been doing for the rest of our history? We still destroy forests without great sense of guilt ...
But we are this: destroyers of forests, a species who changes the natural environment to adapt it to human needs and desires. Can we change? Again, I allow myself to doubt a bit ...