December 6

Blog #27 – Is History True?

“The use of history lies in its capacity for advancing the approach to truth” – Oscar Handlin, Pulitzer-Prize winning historian

One of the biggest questions that we will encounter as amatuer historians in APUSH is how to tackle the changing nature of history.  One camp emphasizes an analytical approach to history, looking at truth as objectively as possible.  This camp sees truth as absolute and knowable, and that a scientific approach towards writing history is the best way to do it.  Wilhelm von Humboldt explained that the historian’s job was “to present what actually happened.”  The idea here is that, regardless of the time period that the reader lives in (say in 1950 or 2011), specific events occurred and people lived and did certain things.  For instance, we should be able to say with certainty that the Civil War did happen. 

Problems come from a historian’s bias and perspective.  Attaining objectivity is the ultimate goal – examining history without looking at it from a political bias or sharing opinions on what the facts mean.  Depending on an historian’s bias, for instance, he/she can argue that slavery caused the Civil War or economics or states’ rights.   To be clear, historians cannot fall under the pressure of government, media, schools, or corporations to steer history to fit a certain mold or predetermined outcome. Revisionist history has been used by dictators to rewrite history that fits their needs and to reinforce their regimes.


“History will be kind to me,for I intend to write it” – Winston Churchill 


The other camp feels a bit different about history.  It feels that “objective” history is impossible because even when objective historians work at assembling their narrative, they have to choose facts, put them in a certain order, exclude other facts (because you can’t put them all in, can you, or are they all even relevant?), they exercise some kind of bias, no matter how slight or small.   Otherwise, the history becomes a catalog of facts, almost like an encyclopedia with little to no interpretation.  “In order to become a history, facts have to be put together into a pattern that is understandable and credible; and when that has been achieved, the resulting portrait of the past may become useful as well.”

Creating history, much like living, is like filtering through the multiple input of stimuli that swarm around us.  Like a natural scientist, a historian searches for patterns whether they know it or not.  If too many facts are included, “useless clutter” will obscure that pattern that the historian sees.

Another criticism of the objective school of history is that much of it has excluded the stories of those who had been marginalized by the march of white male history.  This group has included African-American, Latino, Asian, Native-American and women’s stories.  Plus, if new evidence is discovered of untold stories (say ship manifests of slave vessels or diaries of important or even average people), what should be done with those new stories?  How should they be told?  What if new evidence emerges after someone dies, like how a former states’ rights, pro-segregation U.S. Senator (white man) had fathered a child with an African American woman? 

 Your questions:

1.  Which school of history  – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth?  Why? 

2.  Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right?   Can you do both?  Why or why not? 

Minimum of 250 words total for both answers.  Due Thursday, Dec. 8 (new date).

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Posted December 6, 2011 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

110 thoughts on “Blog #27 – Is History True?

  1. alex Blitstein

    1. In my opinion revisionist seems to represent the truth in the best way. A revisionist may change the story a little bit so it makes sense. If the story was only facts it would be hard to follow and when it is revised into a story it makes a lot more sense and can be followed. On the other hand objective is not the story told by all types of people it is usually just white men. All the other different races and gender are excluded. With a revisionist it is told by more than one point of view sometimes and has more sides of the story to it. Both types are bias even if they are trying not to be due to the face that it would be hard to bad mouth your own culture. Revisionist is not the best in all situations but defiantly in most.
    2. In my opinion it is more important to get history true. When history is easy to follow for the reader it may not be as true as it should be. The facts need to be right or when it is not it may confuse the reader and make it hard to follow. I do think both make it right and easy to follow are possible. When it is more of an interesting history subject it will be able to be easy to follow and the reader can make more of a connection with it. It is more important that history is correct because if not students may notice and when it is easy to follow it is sometime not true.

  2. Oran Lieberman

    1. Which school of history – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth? Why?

    The Objective view of history seems to represent the truth better for multiple reasons. One clear reason that this represents the truth better is the meaning of history. History is “occurences in the past occuring in a chronological order” and so redifining what these events and or occurences are would be changing the truth and perspective from that time. By changing the truth of that time, people would see an improper reflection of what the opinions of the citezens were while these events would occur. And without knowing the true opinions of these peole at the time, or how things were perceived at that specific time period, there would be no way to justify or explain the reaction to these events.

    2. Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right? Can you do both? Why or why not?

    The most important part of history is getting the facts straight and telling it right because with out telling the truth and the absolute truth history would be meaningless. Reasons that it would be meaningless would be because history would simply become a lie that could be changed and then there would be no pattern to refer back to such as the economy. If it weren’t for absolute facts people wouldn’t know how the economy would respond to things such as inflation, double dip recessions, and there would be no real precedents for depressions. This would be disastorous considering that every recession would be the great depression and every war would be THE war to end all wars.

    Oran Lieberman
    4th hour

  3. Claire Weber

    1. Which school of history – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth? Why?
    Objective represents the truth in history more than being a revisionist because objective writers think that to find their opinion they must write all of the facts first then come up with what they think. Revisionists believe that to come up with an overall opinion they must write their stories with their opinions in it. I believe that to write “real” history you must put your own emotions and opinions behind to write your novel, and then if you would like to conclude your own thoughts about the event(s) then you may do so at the end. Revisionists sometimes let their opinions get in the way of their writing and it can get in the way of the true story. That is why objective writers get more of the truth out of their story than revisionists do.

    2. Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right? Can you do both? Why or why not?
    I think that it is more important to tell the truth when writing history because history is supposed to be non-fiction and non-fiction is something that happened and is true. One definition of history is the record of past events and times, especially in connection with the human race. When you record something, it is usually the events and the effects they make on people. If certain things in history had been lies then it would not be history. Yes, you can make it relevant to the reader and tell the truth at the same time but sometimes making it relatable can get in the way of the full truth and get off topic. An example would be stories written about children who were fiction or non-fiction characters that were slaves in the South. The story can be both relatable to teenagers but also tell what it was like in that time or events that happened. In my opinion these kind of stories are not really “history” novels but more of a informative story.

  4. Caleb Hunter

    1. Which school of history – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth? Why?

    2. Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right? Can you do both? Why or why not?

    I say revisionist history represents the truth best. I say this for a variety of reasons. Here is one of my reasons. While objectivity is an overall better representative of the truth, revisionist history can be edited over generations. For example, a Native American might recall an event differently than a white man. I say this because history is also perspective, and how someone views an event might contradict what someone else views. This makes it difficult to obtain the 100% truth of an event, as it may be told differently depending on who is telling it. Revisionist history allows people to get everyone’s point of view, not just one person. Different viewpoints might bring someone closer to the truth, rather than just one.

    I think getting the facts straight is more important than making it relevant to the reader/viewer. I think so because having something told with truth is better than having something that you think others will find interesting. For example, no one wanted to hear about the Holocaust, but if it was buried or told differently, the world might not have learned from its mistake like it should have. In order for people to learn how to deal with things in the future (global conflicts, etc) they must know about events from the past that mirror the present conflict correctly, so no one makes the same mistake twice.

    ~Caleb hunter

  5. geoffwickersham (Post author)

    The school of history that best seems to represent the truth is the school that represents the analytic approach. I agree that looking at the truth is possible and you should have a scientific approach on writing history because that is the only way you will get your facts straight because the events in history did happen and can be supported by what people from those times have wrote about war and other events. These events did happen because people have lived in them and experienced them like the Civil War. This camp is saying that there is only one right way to look at history and that’s by getting all your facts straight.
    I think that getting the facts straight and telling it right is more important to history because you need to have accurate information in order to learn something about history, and if you don’t have all the right facts and information what you just spent the time learning is useless because it’s inaccurate. It is far more important to know about the facts of history when you teach it so that the people you are trying to teach can have a better interpretation of history. The second camp is saying that history cant just all be about facts and you need to make it easier by putting it in a pattern that is understandable and credible. People from the second camp could also be saying stuff that is just based off of there opinions which is not 100% accurate but its what they think for example with WWII and the Holocaust some people don’t believe that happened when it clearly happened because it marks a very important place in history, but some people have there own opinions on what happened.

    Jami L.

  6. Sam Frederik

    1. Which school of history – objective or revisionist – best seems to represent the truth? Why?
    When it comes to history, I believe that the best, most factorial stories are written by the revisionist side. If a story is written by the winning side, it could lean towards more of an angle of how one side conquered and massacred another, won land, and developed it into prosperous, great lands. However, if a story is written from the perspective of the losing side, then it will still include the points of what the winning side may have developed conquered lands and/or peoples into, but it will also acquire a sense of what struggles the revisionist may have faced after being defeated, conquered, etc.

    2. Which do you think is more important to history – making it relevant to the reader / viewer or getting the facts straight and telling it right? Can you do both? Why or why not?
    When it comes to history, I believe that getting facts straight and telling it right is more important. The best historical writings require authors who are unbiased, and although they may feel sorrow or joyfulness towards one party for a loss or an accomplishment, they don’t show that in their writing, and instead focus on telling the reader what the event was.
    However, there really is no way to write a legitimate narrative of an event or story without including a small amount of bias. By attempting to write nothing but facts, one would end up writing it in a way that could not be pieced it together into one clear narrative. Facts are important for history – they make up the stories and descriptions of any historical event that has ever occurred – but to be able to write a full narrative or essay on the event, bias must be used to write sentences and stories.
    Most frequently, bias used in historical narratives does not signify the way one feels towards a specific party. By saying “approximately 350 Indian men, women, and children were massacred at Wounded Knee,” you are stating that 350 Native Americans were killed at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Saying that they were “massacred” does not reflect your opinion; it is legitimately what occurred.

  7. Cory Shanbom

    1.The revisionists are easier to agree with because my take on history agrees with the way that they describe it. The revisionists have a much more open look on history and they have the belief that history should be modified to fit the needs of every generation. The revisionists also include newer accounts of history and in easier to read formats. It doesn’t matter what information you put if the information is not relevant and the school of revisionists provides an interesting, more modern view on history. Objective history is the old form of boring textbook history that nobody payed attention to anyways. More and more people are trying to fine new and intuitive ways to teach subjects, that before came across as boring.

    2. I think that getting information across and making information relevant go hand and hand. If you have all these facts but no relevancy then you might as well be giving the reader a blank sheet of paper. If you have a relevant topic but no information then you have the same problem. I think that good history should be relevant with important facts and it’s possible to do both. The school of revisionists have the right idea that information should be displayed in a relevant manner and be interesting to the reader. Not all facts are relevant to the history topic like horses names or other things which can be taken out and be made more interesting and more relevant. They can also connect history with everyday life.

  8. Alex Saenz

    1. The school of history that best seems to represent the truth is the objective school of history. The objective historians state the true facts of history, while the revisionists opinionate their findings. The objective historians stick to telling things as they really happened. Their sources would be more reliable because they don’t put their own thoughts into things. The revisionists believe that history cannot be interpreted correctly unless there is also someone’s opinion. The true history may not present itself as well in an article written by a revisionist. It may be hard for the reader to decipher what the true history actually is if the writer also wrote with their own opinions as well. It is possible to not be biased and just state the facts. Putting your own opinions in is like saying what you think happened, and not what actually happened. Being a revisionist is like implying that you think something happened, the way you think it happened. Objective historians would give exact accounts of events that really happened, specific dates and times, and what people actually did without any commentary from themselves. Objective historians represent history in the best, most truthful way because they don’t imply things, they tell it the way it is, and they don’t try to get you to believe something that isn’t true. Revisionists aren’t bad, they just don’t have the most truthful way of looking at history. Revisionists think that each generation should interpret history their own way. That would not be very accurate, because each generation might interpret things very differently from each other. They might use the world around them to understand the history from long ago, but each generation has their own new surroundings, advances in technology, and different kinds of people. Eventually, no one would know the real events of history or how they really happened.
    2. I think that it is more important to get the facts straight and tell the history right. People need to know straight up what happened, not something filled with people’s opinions. It is more important to tell the facts then to make it relevant to the reader because you can still make history interesting without adding your owns thoughts to it. You can do both though. People can tell history in multiple ways. There are many ways to present it. You could do it through books, stories, plays, textbooks, teachers, online, presentations, movies, etc. There are countless ways that could teach people history. Many people know how to make it interesting and appealing to others. At times, it is good to put some opinion into it though, because you don’t just want dry fact after dry fact, but you have to do it in a non-persuading kind of way. History should not be about trying to convince someone that a certain event happened the way it did, or a person did or said something in a way that you think they did. It should be about learning how our country came to be how it is today, and what happened in the past that made it this way. The reason it should really just be facts is because people probably want to know what happened the way that it happened. They want to know truthful things, not people’s opinions. But in the long run, having people’s opinions does matter, and it helps too. People might not know how to interpret history if it weren’t for the revisionists. They sometimes help people to understand more, by interpreting it for them in a way.

  9. Tim Dijkstra

    1. In my opinion the objective school of thought best seems to represent the truth. This is because the truth is composed of facts, not oppinons. Revisionist thinkers and historians bring their own opinions into the history. This alters the storys and causes them to stray from the truth. Revisionists believe that history can not be told without someones oppinion to interpret it. However if some one with another opinon looks at the revisionists version they cannot interpret it for themselves. The objective school of history would give actual accounts from multiple view points. Giving dates, times, names, etc without their own opinionated commentary to interfere. If a battle or world event was doccumented by a revisionast they would tell the story in a way that represented their side as the “good guys.” Allowing opinions and emotions to be incorporated into history could cause an alteration to the actual events. Without the facts there can be not history. History is facts. Objective historians do the best job presenting the facts.

    2. In my opinion getting the facts right is the most important thing to history. Like i said before history is just a long account of facts. The audience that needs an altered account of history for it to be relevant, is not an audience that should be giving thoughts or accounts about it. Of course it is possible to make the history relevant and factual. The truth may not be pretty sometimes and not every reader may be interested in seeing it, but to the right people the truth is all they need for it to be relevant. Those are the people who should be sharing their thoughts on history.

  10. Jabrielle Johnson

    1. The revisionist way of writing history best seems to represent the truth because it turns a blind eye to other factors and puts what happened in history without basing it on their own opinions. When you produce history this way people are able to make their own conclusions without being under the influence of someone else. Sometimes writers can include their personal feelings and in doing so leave out important facts or details that lead to another conclusion. Other writers may put out something they feel will better appeal to the audience and will give them the support of the people. However, when writings are done this way you miss out on the importance of what occurred and people can be mislead into believing what isn’t so. Revisionists seem to best avoid this by putting what happened and allowing the people to make out what they want of it.
    2. I think it is more important to get the facts straight and tell it correctly when it comes to history because you want people to make their opinions or conclusions based on their own decisions and not that of the author or the “majority”. I believe you can’t do this and give stories that fit the reader because in doing so you would have to base it off of the opinions of others. When you try to write things that fit the reader, you would only put out what they feel relevant and would further the opinion made about the situation.

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