The following is excerpted from Dr. Clyde N. Wilson’s “Defending Dixie, Searching for Fleas.” (Foundation for American Education, 2006, pp. 44-45).
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
American Historians and Their History
“Almost a lifetime of considering what historianship is, I am satisfied that what it is or should be is storytelling. Assuredly it cant be a scientific experiment, nor a logical proposition, nor the illustration of a theory. Our existence is drama, that is, a story, taking place in the mind of God. Through history we have our only knowledge of the mysterious drama of our existence beyond what has been granted us as Revelation.
I like the delightful saying of the English historian Veronica Wedgewood: “History is not a science – it is an art, like all the other sciences.” Or more seriously, we can make the same point by calling on John Lukacs perfect definition: “History is a kind of memory, organized and supported by evidence.” With emphasis on the evidence. In asserting that history is not certainty, I don’t deny that there are varying degrees of honesty and competence in the handling of evidence that allow us to judge the quality of a historian’s work.
If history is best understood as a story, at least two things follow. First, a story – like that of the Alamo – is somebody’s story – it is not everybody’s story as is claimed by those with an agenda, whether they be nationalist ideologues or multiculturalists. Everybody can learn from a story, but if it is to be real and valid, it is some people’s story. It follows that American in our time cannot have a real history because America today does not have a real people.
There was a time, peaking in the World War II era, when the inhabitants of this vast and diverse nation-state almost mingled into one people. That opportunity is now past. The inhabitants of the United States are corralled under the same territorial monopoly of force and exploitation; they share the same bread and circuses.
They are not a people, only the motley subjects of an empire. Aggregations of Oprah watchers, sports fans, and mall shoppers do not make a people. After Augustus the story of Rome ceases to be the story of a heroic and patriotic people. The Roman people pass from sight. The history of Rome becomes only an account of more or less evil emperors and a chaos of peoples without stories. Such is American in the era of Bush. The future history of the last national election can be written only as a meaningless contest in which the jocks barely beat out the nerds for possession of the imperial palace.
Most of the work of academic historians today can portray the American story in no other terms except as an abstract fantasy of oppressors and oppressed. No society has ever had more professional historians and devoted more resources to historical work of all kinds than modern America – or produced so many useless, irrelevant, and downright pernicious products. I know a historian who teaches that the great Virginians of the American Revolution were like the Taliban. Presumably because they carried weapons and were not feminists. This is to reduce human experience to a paltry and partial perspective, to remove from it everything that is worthwhile and ennobling, usable and true. But this is what academic historians mostly do these days.
A historian should be trying to say something true and useful about human beings, and doing so modestly and cautiously. No historian can discover indisputable truth, at least not about anything important. But that is what historians are claiming to do these days by reducing the drama of human experience to abstract, supposedly universal theory.”