Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Postmodern History

I am currently on holiday in Ireland and as we have driven up and down the country I have begun to read 'In Defence of History' by Richard Evans (a book review will follow when I have finished it). I read a very interesting chapter on postmodern history and this led me to do some research; I found this fascinating article online which I would thoroughly recommend.


The article debates whether or not history is fiction and what the purpose of writing history might be. In my opinion history could be considered a science; we can try and make falsifiable claims and do research to prove this right or wrong. For example "Henry VIII had a mental illness in the later part of his life". Historians also build on each other's writings (and argue against them), making writing history a cumulative process, much like science.

But as my previous blogs on whether or not we can learn lessons from history have shown, historians often interpret sources to suit their needs, just like different ethnic groups might interpret history differently to try and justify their actions or show how they have been victimised in the past. That doesn't mean that history is fiction, or that studying it is meaningless, but instead that a historian has an even harder job than a scientist (in some ways), as they not only need to do the same research as a scientist, but also then try and work from an objective standpoint, looking at how subjective sources might be and whether or not they themselves might be biased. This self-evaluation is critical, and very hard. But I think that when every historian visits an archive or writes a paper, they should look at why they are writing that paper and what they might be trying to teach others, in order to reduce the chances of history becoming more fiction than fact.