That which is written by historians.

"History is a myth we all agree to believe."
- Napoleon

"'History,' Stephen said, 'is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.'"
- James Joyce

"History . . . is indeed little more than the register of the crimes, follies, and misfortunes of mankind."
- Edward Gibbon

"The only thing one learns from history is that nobody learns anything from history."
- Hegel

"History is more or less bunk."
- Henry Ford

"History is nostalgia with references."

She said: What is history?
And he said: History is an angel
Being blown backwards into the future.

He said: History is a pile of debris,
And the angel wants to go back and fix things,
To repair the things that have been broken.
But there is a storm blowing from Paradise
And the storm keeps blowing the angel
Backwards into the future.

And this storm,
this storm
Is called
- Laurie Anderson, "The Nerve Bible"
"We speak the truth to help our people become better human beings. Whites keep real history away from their people. They hide poverty, theft and murder from others. Instead of learning from the past and changing it, they create repetition by denying historical truths."

-- Chief Jacob Thomas, Cayuga Nation

History is millions and millions of people telling stories to each other, to no one in particular, to everyone, and the historian is trying to make sense out of the cacaphony.

Sometimes, the people will begin to tell the same story, but all from different angles, different perspectives, and the historian will think that there is an overall trend, or ebb and flow to it all, and maybe the historian will be right.

But with each death, history comes to an end. As with each birth it begins again.


Wintersweet quotes a striking image of history from Laurie Anderson. This image recurs elsewhere here, where I've forgotten for the moment.

The origiator of this image is Walter Benjamin in one of his Theses on History. He is commenting on a painting of Paul Klee.

Isn't it interesting how we can use imagery, metaphor without knowing who made, or discovered it, and how much it dominates our life.

  1. An area of study wherein students are exposed to colorful characters from the past; political intrigue; and major events, ideas, movements, and themes impacting the direction and development of our modern world.

  2. An area of study wherein students memorize a bunch of odd names and dates.

  3. A field of study naive enthusiasts contemplate pursuing as a career. That is until they find out that you are not only required to learn Japanese and Chinese (if your interests lie to the East), but also German and/or French, and most likely the middle and old versions of all four languages in order to do primary research in the field.
"The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it." Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Of course there are many who don't appreciate these common notions of history: history as a representation of the past, as an accurate description attempting to mirror a real and empirical state of affairs. Oscar Wilde's line is a prelude to very recent trends in history and historiography which view history more as: a literature, a story-telling, a rhetoric of monument. History isn't a description of what really happened or the way the world was. History is a picture of our appreciation of the historical archive, those particular technologies of the storeroom, the photograph, the diary, the home video, and the book. (And what if history were recorded not in paitings, but in kisses?)

Wilhelm Dilthey wrote, some time ago: "The art of understanding therefore centers on the interpretation of written records of human existence" (Gessamelte, 249). It is a hermeneutic act like the interpretation of written records, a reading of the archive, that determines our histories to a far greater extent than the actual past. The line between history and apocrypha isn't determined by a fixed and stable past, but by practices of writing and reading, acts of interpretation, and other practical mechanisms that occur in their discursive situations. That line is always shifting. At one time Neitzsche writes this book... and at another time he doesn't write it, but his sister does.

The historian's job is not so much to faithfully reflect the events of the path. Rather, their job is to tell us a good story about the texts she has chosen to tell a story about. I don’t see why this is any different from the novelist’s job or even the poet’s job. There are, of course, certain practical standards implicit to the history, the novel, or the poem that indicate very important differences between these three genres of writing. The novelist isn’t required to refer to an archive, the poet isn’t required to footnote references, the historian isn’t required to make use of a certain meter or rhythm of speech (at least not usually). These differences, of course, are not mundane or unimportant. They are, however, the very sort of difference that we might give preference to in the delimitation of discursive jurisdiction. Contrary to those historians and philosophers that feign our sensitivity to things like meaning, context, or reality, some postmodern historians feign our sensitivity to the practical standards imminent in the books we read and the discourses on these books. They think that the interesting things about our history books are what actually goes on in and around them, rather than how close ‘Marx got Reality right’, we ‘reconstruct the cultural context into which Hobbes was born’, or we ‘retrieve the Meaning of Husserl’s Cartesian Meditations’. The interesting works on Marx aren’t those works that claim to have the final word on him because they have finally placed his texts in their true cultural context. The interesting works on Marx are those works that say interesting things about Marx. A work on Marx is going to be interesting and informative, in other words, if it fits certain practical standards we have for works on Marx.

(Note: if there is one goal my friends and I have on e2 it is to debunk the ridiculous conceptions of history that pervade the sorrier of texts (and vote systems, and allegiances) that shame some users here. It is not histories that we are writing, but histories that we are destroying. It is not the past that we profane, but a conception of the past as something that we pay homage to. (More later, and always between parentheses))

Swords clash on the fields of battle, burning cities cast a sickly orange glow in the sky, a civilization rises and falls. Suddenly, inspiration strikes and a new invention or idea is unleashed upon society. People always rebuild, things can change, but in many ways they also stay the same. George Satayana said that “Those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it.” History not only acts as a guide to the past, but can also be a map to what the future might bring. There are patterns of historical change, history can sometimes be seen move in cycles.

The annals of history are filled with many stories and places. The dazzlingly white city of Rome and its eventual takeover of the known world. The Declaration of Independence and the eventual ascendancy of the United States. The whirr of the Wright brothers’ first airplane. The battlefields of the 20th century. History is a thing that encompasses all idea and concepts. Ostensibly it is about the passage of time and things that have happened in the past, but it is really so much more. History covers all topics and exerts its influence on all things. When a new idea or invention is created, it is looked at in relation to the ideas of the past. How is this thing different? Is it better? Does it improve on something? Even the concept of “new” itself relates to something’s placement within history. As Hegel said, history “unites the objective with the subjective side…It comprehends not less what has happened than the narration of what has happened.” He is saying that history is concerned with telling us the story of the world. Like all stories, history has overriding themes, through the course of time these themes can repeat themselves.

History cannot help but to repeat itself, man looks into the past and tries to emulate what they admire. Machiavelli even told his aspiring princes “the wise man should always follow the roads that have been trodden by the great, and imitate those who have most excelled.” This can lead to great things, like the evolution of ideas and technology. It helps us to move from the clip clop of horses hooves to the whine of a jet engine. It helps us evolve from the early republics of Ancient Greece, to the ideas of John Locke and Thomas Hobbes, to the modern democracies of today. This emulation can also be a curse upon the world, like Hitler using a false idea of an Aryan race to somehow justify the slaughter of millions, or the misappropriation of the Koran by radical Muslims.

The story of history is filled with many tales that might sound the same, the rise and fall of a great civilization, or the evolution of societies and ideas. It is like a great cycle of death and rebirth, of growth and decay that flows through time. The only difference is the dates and the players involved. It is through the study of these tales that we are brought enlightenment, so we can study the progression of ideas and see where we are headed. And especially so we can learn from the mistakes of the past and avoid them when they come up again.

Node your homework!

For countless centuries, scientists, philosophers, archeologists, and historians, have been pursuing the goal of revealing the truth about the events that happened before their birth. Multitudes of lives have been spent toiling over massive records of relevant episodes in the epic of man's existence. And yet, while the effort behind these actions has not been futile, has any common truth, or agreement on such a truth come into being? While these people have sought to eliminate all error from the accounts of specific events, have they succeeded in anything but incorporating the views of their own time into these precious recollections of history? It seems that if so much time and energy has been channeled into the preservation and reconstruction of this subject, a certain outcome of accuracy and fact should result. And yet, all that is said about any event that occurred in the past, be it the existence of King Arthur, or the fall of the Ming Dynasty, can be argued, debated, and ultimately, proven to be completely false.

The quest for truth that inspires historians can be considered to be a foolish enterprise, as no truth is ever revealed. It is impossible to obtain a completely accurate account of any given event, as no human being is omniscient. "Whoever wants the total reality," writes Jacques Barzun," must first gain access to the mind of God". The error that so many consider to be the ultimate flaw of history is indeed history in itself. We cannot escape our nature. To be human is to err, and to form bias, and make mistakes. Even when one attempts to obtain pure knowledge, one is already bound to a certain opinion of the subject, regardless of one's wishes. The reason history exists is to provide inconsistent, flawed accounts of the conflicts that lead up to the current state of affairs.

Any action worth the interest of a person living hundreds, even thousands of years later than the action occurred, must be quite remarkable. If the human race lived in perfect harmony, never erring in its decisions, or making ridiculous little mistakes, there would be no need to record the past, as it would be boring and monotonous. Every incident that comes to be preserved as a fragment of history is the result of a mistake on behalf of some unfortunate individual. Take the fame of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, for example. The idol of multitudes of people for thousands of years, currently worshipped by 33% of the world , he is perhaps the most well known personage in Western Civilization. And yet, would he be quite this famous if Judas Iscariot had not betrayed him to the sate? Would Jesus' characteristic image of suffering remain intact if Pontius Pilate had used a different, less painful way, of disposing of criminals than crucifixion? Would the life of Jesus interest anybody if he did not die so valiantly, and if it were not described with the fervernt passion and exaggeration found in the New Testament?

It is the element of human error and opinion that makes history as it is. It is impossible to escape the capacity of the human mind. To remove the error and bias that permeate historical accounts would be to modify history itself, which is exactly what everyone seeks to avoid. Plagued by the guilt of being imperfect, historians fail to realize that it is this imperfection that is the root of history, and the only reason it exists. Independence from human imagination, thought, and even general stupidity, is unthinkable and unnecessary. The curiosity with which humans perceive the world around them, whether in the present, or the past, is enough to provide the history that is needed. Flawed, distorted, and incomplete, history is exactly the way it should be.

The Future We Deserve, by Jacques Barzun
Major Religions of the World,

What is history and why is it important that we study it?

History is the recorded method of tracking events that happened in the past whether the recording be through story, myth, word-of-mouth, music, song, writing/literature, or merely through leaving behind ones bones and body parts for others to find a later date. History is, overall, any form of left behind record that can be used to piece together past events at a period of time somewhere in the future, and it is necessary to study history because one needs to learn about the future mistakes one might make, through those that were made by current people and by ones predecessors in the past, in order to avoid making similar mistakes and rediscovering what good things came of other choices.

For hundreds of years historians have pieced together the past through simple objects like bones, weapons, preserved corpses, and very primitive tools. These objects are better associated with very ancient civilizations or humans such as the Homo Erectus and similarly dated civilizations. More recent peoples can be studied through means such as semi-recorded writings, or even fully recorded methods- books, movies, picture stories (however these are more left to individual interpretation) and other similar writings. There are also many different types of “un-recorded” or…it is unclear how one would classify certain literatures, so an example would seem much more appropriate; texts such as the “first” version of the bible, and the books of the apostles are examples of this type of “un-recorded” histories; records which have no obvious authors that are still living or who can be truly traced back to their date. Such authors like these recorded events in unique styles that can be followed and, for the most part can be verified, but do not have any traceable authors, or whose authors may have been many people working in collaboration with a common goal to which they were so devoted that they were willing to give up their individual identities for a common cause. These texts are almost never completely accurate, because of the fact that they have been rewritten so many times that the originality of the first text has been lost in the new interpretations. Despite backsets like these, however, one will find that history continues to provide insight into the past and will provide such into the future. Note to the Reader: I meant no offense to those who believe in the Bible- this is merely an examination of history, and not a religious discussion.

History has been and will continue to be an invaluable way of conveying ones culture to ones descendants. People constantly, whether consciously or otherwise, record their actions- they write in journals, write poetry, draw pictures, write or play music, or simply talk to one another. These are just a few examples of how people record history, and every one of those methods is invaluable. Ones descendants may find knowledge in them, may find out how to deal with problems, may find about their own genealogical histories, or simply find reassurance in the fact that someone else has gone through a trial much like their own. Many, many times people have found comfort in the knowledge that their parents have gone through similar trials, and have found strength in the knowledge that those elders have overcome them. Whether or not one believes it, there is comfort to be found in the suffering of those before, because they see that they are not alone in the emotions and feelings that they experience, whether good or bad. I know that I am reassured when I stumble upon an old journal from my father and see that he went through many of the same trials that I am and have gone through. Whether or not people believe it, there is comfort in the suffering of those before you because you see that you are not alone in what you feel, and you see help in dealing with the things you will have to experience. One may also discover possible paths that they might have taken, which can now be avoided.

One might look at the past and think to him or herself that they would never make similar mistakes such as those that were made in the past, because of the fact that one simply wouldn’t have the opportunity, but in truth a person is probably just as likely to do so if they have an opportunity which is similar, but not quite the same, and that person doesn’t quite realize it. In truth those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it, and those who cannot forget history are condemned to relive it. History needs to be read and valued for what the situation may represent in the future, as well as in the past. If one cannot see history for what it is; a record to guide them both for choices they might make, as well as for choices that were already made, then one will have no value for it. History must be studied if for no other reason than for understanding.

History is the way that people have passed on knowledge, and wisdom- yes they are two different things- as well as simply a recorded method of tracking the past and the decisions that were made, and history needs to be studied in order to ensure that those same mistakes aren’t made again. History is a thing of the past, and of the future. What is history and why should we study it? This is a thing that only time can tell.

His"to*ry (?), n.; pl. Histories (#). [L.historia, Gr. 'istori`a history, information, inquiry, fr. 'istwr, "istwr, knowing, learned, from the root of to know; akin to E. wit. See Wit, and cf. Story.]


A learning or knowing by inquiry; the knowledge of facts and events, so obtained; hence, a formal statement of such information; a narrative; a description; a written record; as, the history of a patient's case; the history of a legislative bill.


A systematic, written account of events, particularly of those affecting a nation, institution, science, or art, and usually connected with a philosophical explanation of their causes; a true story, as distinguished from a romance; -- distinguished also from annals, which relate simply the facts and events of each year, in strict chronological order; from biography, which is the record of an individual's life; and from memoir, which is history composed from personal experience, observation, and memory.

Histories are as perfect as the historian is wise, and is gifted with an eye and a soul. Carlyle.

For aught that I could ever read, Could ever hear by tale or history. Shak.

What histories of toil could I declare! Pope.

History piece, a representation in painting, drawing, etc., of any real event, including the actors and the action. -- Natural history, a description and classification of objects in nature, as minerals, plants, animals, etc., and the phenomena which they exhibit to the senses.

Syn. -- Chronicle; annals; relation; narration. -- History, Chronicle, Annals. History is a methodical record of important events which concern a community of men, usually so arranged as to show the connection of causes and effects, to give an analysis of motive and action etc. A chronicle is a record of such events, conforming to the order of time as its distinctive feature. Annals are a chronicle divided up into separate years. By poetic license annals is sometimes used for history.

Justly Caesar scorns the poet's lays; It is to history he trusts for praise. Pope.

No more yet of this; For 't is a chronicle of day by day, Not a relation for a breakfast. Shak.

Many glorious examples in the annals of our religion. Rogers.


© Webster 1913.

His"to*ry, v. t.

To narrate or record.




© Webster 1913.

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