QUOTES TO PROVOKE THOUGHT AND DISCUSSION

 

The following quotes and excerpts from various historians,

several of which are contradictory, are included to provoke

thought and discussion rather than to lead to a specific approach.

I like the quote, "The goal of education is not the unquestioning acceptance of any single interpretation, but the development of an individual's critical abilities - to heighten perception and awareness, to attain maturity by living in Socrates' famous phrase, "the examined life".

 

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"Some truth claims are irreducibly perspectival while others lend themselves to rational resolution."

 

"It is a principle that shines impartially on the just and the

unjust - namely that once you have a point of view all history will

back you up." Van Wyck Brooks 1915

 

"The notion of a determinate and unitary truth about the

physical or social world, approachable if not ultimately reachable,

came to be seen by a growing number of scholars as a chimera." Peter Novick

 

"The historians goals are accuracy, analysis, and objectivity in the reconstruction of the past.... History as a weapon is an abuse of history." Arthur Schlesinger

 

"Our age has obliterated human magnificence by linking a banality with a non sequitur - the observation that everyone has flaws, and the conclusion that therefore no one merits emulation. Having denied the possibility of human excellence, we also have obliterated the reality of human depravity by the doctrine of the moral equivalence of all 'lifestyles'. The idea is abroad that there is no moral heritage worth "imposing" on children, respect for whom requires that their selection of "values" be regarded as a mere matter of taste. This is why so many students never criticize a proposition by saying, "I believe you are mistaken for the following reason." Instead, they give autobiographical reports such as "I'm not comfortable with that." Students regard such reports about their "feelings" as final and no more in need of justification than the assertion, "I don't like Brussels sprouts."

George Will

 

"To prove that there is nothing about which a finite mind can know everything, is not to prove that there is nothing about which a finite mind can know something; and to demonstrate that all human knowledge is incomplete and all human truth partial is not to demonstrate that all human knowledge is ignorance and all human truth false or some ambiguous thing between true and false. That this is the working conviction of historians as contrasted with their inept excursions into theory is easy to demonstrate."

David Potter

 

"There are many statues of men slaying lions, but if only

the lions were sculptors there might be quite a different set of

statues." Barbara Tuchman

 

Secular historians "live scrupulously, morally, righteously

by the law of historical method but that method leaves us in vast

darkness. It tells us that there are facts but does not tell us

what they mean.... We cannot take an honest view of human history unless we acknowledge God's work through human kind in history."

Arthur Link

 

There is a danger that people will value ideology above

accuracy. "When an historian has strong ideological commitment, a tension may be set up between his devotion to the commitment and his devotion to realism for its own sake.... His historical realism is pitted against his liberal urge to find constructive meanings in the past for the affairs of the present."

David Potter

 

"We are being offered a choice of worries. What the relativists, so-called,want us to worry about is provincialism -the danger that our perceptions will be dulled, our intellects constricted, and our sympathies narrowed by the over learned and overvalued acceptances of our own society. What the anti-relativists, self-declared, want us to worry about, and worry about and worry about, as though our very souls depended upon it, is a kind of spiritual entropy, a heat death of the mind, in which everything is as significant, thus as insignificant, as everything else."

Christopher Geertz.

 

"Among David Potter's gifts are a low-keyed but elegant style,a scrupulous disdain of eloquence, rhetorical tricks and moral stridency, and a profound suspicion of all "lessons" and assumptions of teleology in history. Especially notable was his warinessof hindsight among historians, the fallacy of explaining the presentby the past, the assumption that "what happened" had to happen, and the habit of making historical figures culpable for acting as if things might have turned out differently. To understand fully what did happen, Potter maintained that the historian must also explore the possibilities and plausible alternatives as they presented themselves to historical actors. Thus plausibilities and possibilities - even fantasies - as well as actualities were subjects essential to historical investigation." C Vann Woodward

 

Fundamentalism is rigorously and systematically used to indoctrinate and subjugate young minds. It is a contraceptive designed to prevent intellectual fertilization." Stephen Jay Gould

 

"Your reason is the only oracle given you by heaven, and you are answerable not for the rightness but uprightness of the decision.... Fix reason firmly in her seat, and call to her tribunal every fact, every opinion." Thomas Jefferson

 

"We need never fear an objective appraisal of our heroes. Truth is ultimately more enlightening and satisfying than myth" R. G. Collingwood

 

"We've gotten so used to assuming that the cynical interpretations are necessarily the right ones that we automatically think the worst of everybody and everything in order not to be considered naive." Peter DeVries

 

"One of the first duties of man is not to be duped, to be aware of his world; and to derive the significance of human experience from events that never occurred is surely an enterprise of doubtful value." Carl Becker

 

 

WHAT I HAVE TRIED TO SAY SO THAT IS CAN BE UNDERSTOOD IS THAT NO HISTORIAN CAN DESCRIBE THE PAST AS IT ACTUALLY WAS AND THAT EVERY HISTORIAN'S WORK - THAT IS , HIS SELECTION OF FACTS, HIS EMPHASIS, HIS OMISSIONS, HIS ORGANIZATIONS, AND HIS METHODS OF PRESENTATION - BEARS A RELATION TO HIS OWN PERSONALITY AND TO THE AGE AND CIRCUMSTANCES IN WHICH HE LIVES. THIS IS RELATIVISM AS I UNDERSTAND IT" CHARLES BEARD

 

"The historian is .... committted, above all else, to the vigorousand unrelenting scrutiny of historical evidence. This commitment distinguishes his trade from that of the novelist, the propagandist, the prophet." Harvard Guide to American History.

 

"The value of history is not scientific but moral; by liberating the mind, by deepening the sympathies, by fortifying the will, it enables us to control, not society, but ourselves, a much more important thing; it prepares us to live more humanely in the present and to meet rather than to foretell the future." Carl Becker

 

"No theory can fully explain; the past remains an element of the unknown and the unknowable. The surroundings that are the context of any man's life are an integral part of it, and history never reveals them in full. All it reveals are clues for guessing what the life in its context actually was - clues that are colored by the subjectivity of whoever initially provided them, and colored again by the subjectivity of whoever interprets them. But history does, in another sense, give more knowledge of what happened in the past than the participants had themselves; it opens a wider perspective than was open to them, boxed in as they were in time and space, and imparts to successive events a meaning that was hidden at the time." William Wilcox, Portrait of a General

 

"A patient pursuit of facts, and cautious combination and comparison of them is the drudgery to which man is subjected by his Maker if he wishes to attain sure knowledge." Thomas Jefferson

 

'What is history but a fable agreed upon". Napoleon

 

The Greek word "historie" meant a"search of the rational explanation and understanding of phenomena".

 

"History is a trick played upon the dead by the living"

"For every generation is in a zone of imperfect visibility as far as the past is concerned. It is as if we are swimmers in the hollow of the historical wave, not until we reach the crest of the next wave can we look back and see clearly what went on before." Arthur Schlesinger.

 

"History is an inexhaustible fund of entertainment and instruction."

James Madison

 

"The principle office of history I take to be this: to prevent virtuous actions from being forgotten, and that evil words and deeds should fear an infamous reputation with posterity."

Tacitus

 

"Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly found, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living."

Karl Marx

 

"History is an account, mostly false, of events, mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers, mostly knaves, and soldiers, mostly fools."

Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

 

"The very ink in which history is written is merely fluid prejudice." Mark Twain

 

"History is an endless debate..." Pieter Geyl

 

"History is the memory of things said and done." Carl Becker

 

"History is the biography of great men" Thomas Carlyle

 

"History depends on who writes it". Richard Nixon

 

"History is the propaganda of the victors." Louis de Bernieres

 

"He was struck suddenly by the illuminating idea that perhaps it was not that it was impossible for him to write a history, but that History Itself Was Impossible." Louis de Bernieres

"The past is not dead. It is not even past." William Faulkner