Browsing "Historians on History"

American Historians and Their History

Quickly becoming a people devoid of a historical memory, the United States as a proposition nation will continue to rewrite or invent history to suit the political and entertainment industry elite, and their subject peoples.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

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 Lukac’s 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 mulitculturalists. 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.”

(Defending Dixie, Searching for Fleas: American Historians and Their History, excerpt, Clyde N. Wilson, Foundation for American Education, 2006, pp. 44-45)

History: The Muse and Her Doctors

Scholars recommend caution when selecting books written during or after America’s cultural revolution of the 1960’s and the advent of cultural Marxism. What often passes for history today are poorly-disguised opinions and class struggle, slanted psycho, social and political histories, and introductions which state that “most of the empirical basis of this study derives from two computer databases.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

History: The Muse and Her Doctors

“The historian may in addition permit himself to digress in order to opine, argue, explain, speculate, moralize and compare. The visions will differ and perhaps clash, but will be nonetheless desirable. But these excursions must not become ends in themselves. The truly historical statements must greatly predominate over the rest. If “truly historical” needs illustration, here is one of the shortest: “Veni, vidi, vici” is a historical statement. “The main spring of his character was conquest” is a psychological statement. “The net effect of his career was destruction, not creation” is a sociological statement.

How radically unlike is the work done by students who use history for their purposes – to find “fresh” answers to questions social and typological – may be seen from a glance at the open page of their books, or at the daily paper. What one may chance upon is a diagram in dots, crosses, and other marks, headed: “Computer-prepared map of violent incidents in France, 1840-1844,” while on the opposite page is a geometrical outline of France, also crossed and dotted, showing the incidence of incidents. Positive and negative numbers to three decimals express the absolute values applying to each of the levels of violence, side by side with a frequency distribution.

A historian need feel no objection or distaste whatever at this use of history; rather, he rejoices that the ancient urge to record the past leads later on to such refined methods for dissecting it.

But he is simultaneously conscious of one certitude and one doubt. He knows as he studies the charts in all directions that he is not reading history; and he feels an uneasiness about the capacity of the graphic-quantitative method for truth telling.”

(History: The Muse and Her Doctors (excerpt), Jacques Barzun, American Historical Review, February 1972, pp. 58-59)

History Helps Those Who Help Themselves

The victors write the history of events unless challenged by the defeated; Colonel Waddell (below) was an accomplished jurist, author, and essayist, and led Wilmingtonians in their fight against corruption and violence during political reconstruction.

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

History Helps Those That Help Themselves:

“In November, 1901 the annual convention of the United Daughters of the Confederacy was held in Wilmington, North Carolina and Mayor Alfred Moore Waddell, welcomed them to this historic city. In his address, he said that “As one who bore a humble part in the service of the Confederacy I reverently salute you the wives, sisters, and daughters of my comrades, the noblest army of heroines and patriots that ever trod the earth.” He went on to say that:

“Your organization is unique in human annals, as was the struggle whose memories you seek to preserve. The dreamer and sentimentalist may fold his hands, and with a sigh exclaim that history will do justice between the parties to that struggle; but experience has shown that history, like Providence, helps those only who help themselves, and will honor only those who help her to record the truth. You will readily admit that if the Southern people had remained silent, and had used no printer’s ink after the war, they would have been pilloried in history as Rebels and traitors who had, causelessly and without a shadow of excuse, drenched the land with the blood of unoffending patriots.

But the Southern people did not remain silent; they published in a thousand forms the truth, both as to the causes which impelled them to assert their rights and as to the battles in which they maintained them, and have thus made a partial, unjust and one-sided history impossible. In this work the Memorial Association first, and after them the United Daughters of the Confederacy, have been the most heroic and devoted, and they may justly claim a large share of the credit for successfully vindicating before the world the causes which their Southern countrymen engaged, and in which thousands of them sacrificed their lives.”

Confederate Veteran Magazine, November 1901, page 485-486

 

Historical Objectivity and Machines

Since the end of the war, the Southern historian’s view of the conflict was not considered objective unless “he accepts and proclaims the Northern (i.e., “national”) interpretation of Southern things.”

Bernhard Thuersam, Circa1865

 

Historical Objectivity and Machines

“Once, years ago, a Southern historian beckoned me aside and led me to a room . . . “Look,” he said. An enormous machine occupied about half the room, and a graduate assistant was feeding punch cards into it. With inhuman noise and precision, the machine was sorting the cards.

The historian closed the door upon the noise and, with a kind of Stonewall Jackson glint in his eye, explained. Documentation, he said – mere documentation – would never convince the North. Mere argument was futile.

But if he could say, in a footnote to his forthcoming publication, that the figures in his statistical tables had been achieved by the assistance of a card-sorting machine (he would carefully cite the machine’s name and model), then the Yankees might hearken to both his documentation and his argument.

The machine, a guarantee of his “objectivity,” would remove his work from the area of suspicion that a study originating in the South would normally occupy.”

(Still Rebels, Still Yankees, and Other Essays, Donald Davidson, LSU Press, 1957, pp. 180-181)

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