Wednesday, November 17, 2004

History of History

An interesting article by Howard Zinn, author or A People's History of the United States, about why he wrote that particular book. Here's a snippet:

From the start of my teaching and writing, I had no illusions about "objectivity," if that meant avoiding a point of view. I knew that a historian (or a journalist, or anyone telling a story) was forced to choose, from an infinite number of facts, what to present, what to omit. And that decision inevitably would reflect, whether consciously or not, the interests of the historian. There is an insistence, among certain educators and politicians in the United States, that students must learn facts. I am reminded of the character in Charles Dickens's book "Hard Times," Gradgrind, who admonishes a younger teacher: "Now, what I want is, Facts. Teach these boys and girls nothing but Facts. Facts alone are wanted in life." But there is no such thing as a pure fact, innocent of interpretation. Behind every fact presented to the world – by a teacher, a writer, anyone – is a judgment. The judgment that has been made is that this fact is important, and that other facts are not important and so they are omitted from the presentation. There were themes of profound importance to me that I found missing in the orthodox histories that dominated American culture. The consequence of these omissions has been not simply to give a distorted view of the past but, more importantly, to mislead us all about the present.