History vs. Facts

Sun Aug 24 14:36:39 2008
It is not possible or advisable to include ALL known facts in the description of an event, at least not in the last 500 years or so. The National Security Archive has over 15,000 documents on the thirteen days of the Cuban Missile Crisis alone. Just reading them all could take decades.

Historians must select a tiny fragment of what is available. What to read, what to use, what to ignore, are essential questions for the historian. That is where differences of personality, culture, ethics and background become important–they will influence what is viewed as relevant and what goes on the rubbish heap.

Even those 15,000 unedited pages on the Cuban Missile Crisis could not qualify as “objective history” (and who would want to read them anyway?) Someone had to make decisions that this subject was important (and not some other one), find the documents, and decide what was relevant to the archive and what was not.

History is not about reporting the facts, but rather making sense out of far too much information. Turning a massive pile of documents into something that is interesting, understandable and hopefully, enjoyable. And that is a highly subjective activity.

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~ by severalfourmany on August 24, 2008.

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