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In recent times, history has been moving towards a post-modernist perspective, as part of the larger shift towards postmodernism. Postmodernism demands that its readers recognise the use of history as an instrument of enforcing, as well as expressing hegemony, either cultural or political. Thus, postmodernists claim that this recognition has allowed the suppressed groups to widen history‟s record to include their side of the story as well, thus allowing the claim that the postmodernist view of history creates the ground for „democratic empowerment’.1 However, the post-modernist claims of history lacking truth have not been positively accepted by many.2 Most historians stubbornly believe that the use of sufficient amount of evidence can guarantee the truth of their statements.3 This notion of truth drawn from evidence has been emphasized ever since the times of Ranke. In fact, to a large extent, this issue of truth being ascertainable or not has been manifested in the form of a debate around the notion of the historical fact, particularly since Carr‟s influential piece, „What is History?’. There is no denying that historical facts are important to history- Oakeshott calls facts the ‘basis of history’.4 This refers to the position of the facts as a statement which provides support to the theories that historians put forward. Facts are often utilised as the standard of assessing the inherent strength of a claim. However, the debate continues because of two issues, firstly the post-modern retort that historical facts are not objective has created considerable doubt in the certainty of the history (among other arguments as well of course), and secondly, the issue of the notion of the historical fact itself. As Munslow states, historians have no agreed definition of a „fact‟. 5 Yet there is no denying the privileged position of the historical fact in the field of history. This staunchly defended position and the direct conflict deems a look into the concept of the historical fact. The intention of the author is to directly contest the definition of the historical
J. Tosh, THE PURSUIT OF HISTORY, 194, (3 edn., 2002). Tosh, supra note 1, at 195-6. 3 C. J. Napier, The Historian as an Auditor: Facts, Judgements and Evidence, 29(2) THE ACCOUNTING HISTORIANS JOURNAL, 131,131-2, (December 2002). 4 M. Oaskeshott, ON HISTORY AND OTHER ESSAYS, 33, (1983). 5 A. Munslow, THE NEW HISTORY, 12, (2003).
. as well as question the process of its formulation. to arrive at upon an opinionated stance regarding this particular concept.fact.
The multiplicity of terms utilised in the historical discourse generates this confusion. at 118. Coady. Sources gain meaning based on the historian‟s perception of their significance within their own (past) context. (1950). For Renier. Collingwood and Historical Testimony. RE-THINKING HISTORY. The distinction between sources and facts A number of historians distinguish between sources (or traces or evidences or relics) and historical facts (themselves referred to as evidences on occasion). Renier may be cited here. as well as points out their distinction. However. Renier suffers from the same issue of using interchangeable terms without clarification as was pointed out earlier. but in that drawing from sources. HISTORY. by being supported by data. However. 8Thus. This process of selection is what actually gives facts and sources their meaning.7 Data become the support structure upon which the fact is based. 6. 60. 95. historians such as Carr and Elton are guilty of.J. 409. Renier.CHAPTER ONE The intention of this chapter is eventually conclude upon a justified definition of the historical fact. with an event being equivalent to the historical fact (or at least the definition that the author seeks to push.J.A. an event is a system of occurrences that form a description by creating a sequential hierarchy so as to constitute that event. Jenkins. these truths are taken 6 7 K. or at least are sufficiently secured in that claim. 9 Renier. as per Jenkins. . (2004). traces are “evidences of sequence of events”. supra note 8. 8 G. What we glean out of this is that sources somehow constitute facts.9 To an extent. it is assumed that evidences or traces are sources. ITS PURPOSE AND METHOD. facts gain meaning within the framework of theory that the historian wishes to present. To clarify. that in turn shall be arrived at shortly). by a particular process of selection. for Renier. 409. (October 1975). as he points out a distinction between occurrences and events. C.one that. facts are distinguishable from data in that they are considered to be assured statements of truth. Munslow‟s comment about the lack of an agreeable conception of history must first be addressed. 50 (194) PHILOSOPHY. Facts are established truths that are laid down by historians by drawing from sources. The researcher believes that historical facts are not separated from the sources and traces of the past.
(1815). the data is just one part of determining a fact. we are creating a fact. 74. or a justified description. he echoes the above position. and fact. at 12. . as the theoretical conceptions that shape the historians‟ ontology. 23. For him. historical facts are simply „an event which actually happened. So when we state that the battle at Waterloo took place in 1815. Two ideas jump out of this encapsulation of Munslow‟s idea of the fact. but exclusively to neither. Munslow states that a historian‟s approach to the data will be marred by his desire to seek out patterns that prove whether or not it actually is such a society or not. the first. anything which is true or real’. This amalgam is created by the interplay of the human 10 11 See J. 14 M. (1986).out of their (presumed) context into the context of theory set by the historian. PROBING THE PAST. facts are an amalgam between words and things.11 For him. play into establishing the methodology of approaching that data. this issue of selection. 13 For Stanford. Munslow. the historian‟s ontological commitments act as a filter through which his/her factual statements are written. supra note 5. 12 Munslow. and how that led to the end of his rule. at 14. This is because the fact that Napoleon‟s rule over France ended after this battle makes links between the battle taking place. THE BATTLE OF WATERLOO. An acceptable conception Munslow sees facts as descriptions that cannot be absolutely accurate-something which apparently all historians admit. Booth. THE NATURE OF HISTORICAL KNOWLEDGGE. belonging to both. 13 L. Stephens. supra note 5. Historical fact for him is a justified historical description. Stanford. ala McCullagh. or raw evidence (perhaps evidence is more suitable). facts are a „slippery concept’14 that are statements which state the truth.the battle of Waterloo ended Napoleon‟s rule over France. When Munslow distinguishes between data. why Napoleon lost. we are making links between different occurrences to arrive at a conclusive description.12 For other historians such as Lester Stephens. while the statement that the battle of Waterloo marked the end of the rule of Napoleon over France. the next. (1974). (which we know because we have documents stating it10). So in establishing whether or not Japan is a patriarchal society.both of which are dealt with as follows.this could simply take place by asking particular questions that follow along the lines of the historians‟ preconceived ideologies. and yet the historian asserts them to be true based on the context within which the sources are placed.his ontology. not what the statements are about. this notion of a justified historical description. Basically. we are in fact making a statement that is a mere repetition of a raw source.
Knight. However the issue arises now with the justification component. when the historian works upon the evidence provided. (OctoberDecember 1964). in narrowing down the body of traces he has to operate within. at 31. then it is easy to consider facts as descriptions. This latter function is done according to the subjective significance of the facts as perceived by the historian. Toynbee agrees with Carr‟s position rather religiously. citing him directly in framing his conception of the fact. at 73. Carr. When dealing with constitution. If we consider the differences between sources and facts.mind. or by the historian himself.historians have little justification for claiming certain facts as significant. traces of the past themselves are either preselected by their paucity. First. 20 Munslow. there have been two major prongs of attack on this assumption. historical facts are historical judgments about not just events. supra note 13. one must state Carr‟s distinction between „facts of the past’ and ‘facts of history‟17.15 What we see here is a notion of a historical fact as a justified historical description. 18 Stephens. 25(4) JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF IDEAS. Secondly. supra note 5. 587. to create that fact. (1961). the way facts are constituted. but also about statements that relate to them.what justifies the truth value as being ascribed to a particular fact? Objectivity or lack thereof The authenticity of historical facts is often taken as given. pegging certain facts of the past as historical facts is necessarily one of selection. supra note 17. as they are derived by inductive reasoning by the historian. H. which makes the necessary association between word and world. F. WHAT IS HISTORY?. This is indicative of the selection process that is undertaken by the historian. in that facts describe particular events.20 In an infinite time stream. 17 E. Since the historian cannot fully gain access to the past. not as per the evidences. 18 Oakeshott agrees with Collingwood in stating that facts are created by a process of reconstitution in the histori an‟s mind. the sources utilised to constitute them. Thus. Philosophy and History.H. and doing so betrays an ignorance of their own biases. at 13. A. 587. 19 Carr.16 However. . at 8. as created 15 16 Stanford. 4-6.19 Michael Stanford further states that historical facts are necessarily uncertain. and are not a reflection of past reality. and they are justified as per the historian. supra note 14.
WHAT HAPPENED TO HISTORY. at 40. to list them out would amount to needless repetition. supra note 13. Tosh advocates the multiplicity of meanings that can be drawn from documents. . at 190. 25 Jenkins. 27 nd A. So while documents shall reflect the desires of the authors (Marwick‟s defence of charters and treaties is ultimately no exception29). 1981) 28 L. THE NATURE OF HISTORY. 486. 29 W. and often betray the biases of their creators. or what certain words or phrases may have meant to the people they relate to. supra note 6.by the historian through the formulation of his theory.24 Jenkins is scathing in his attack on the epistemological framework of history. Stephens. barring the needs of the historian. the usage of facts in general is dictated by the purpose intended for the concerned historical piece. 26 Tosh. which is fraught with subjectivity. Thomson. supra note 1. at 173. the need for mechanisms of criticism and evaluation. supra note 1. at 186-8. as well as their understanding. supra note 8. 241. 24 Tosh. (2 edn.25 Tosh states that historical writing is rarely ever composed entirely out of „unassailable facts‟26. they can hardly be distinguished on the basis of the ‘illusory ground’22 of objectivity. but also themselves subject to interpretation. supra note 1. Marwick details out how the number of interpretations of evidence varies with how imperfect the evidence is. 110. 30 Tosh. at 487..one has to assume what an artefact was used for. A STUDY OF HISTORY. Much literature has been dedicated to proving that sources are different from the past.21 He further goes on to say that since all facts are ultimately human creations. for example. at 34. (2000). other sources such as artefacts or oral accounts are betrayed by their anachronistic analysis. Toynbee. by stating that the historian can account for this problem of subjectivity. 23 Renier. Even the sources themselves are problematic. as detailed by a number of historians as part of their methodology is indicative of this flawed nature of sources. and interpretation by the historian. but he places a considerable amount of faith in the historian. citing that as a reason for calling sources „traces‟.J. Meanings of sources differ according to biases of their creators. (1960).28 Further. the sources of history are not only a sliver of the past. 27 Sources themselves are not absolute. Id. Marwick. Renier agrees with the role of imagination in the arrangement of occurrences to form an event. and how imagination‟s effect varies from person to person. at 100.30 21 22 A. 23 Hayden White dictates that history provides no way of preferring one notion of a fact over the other.
for the past cannot be retrieved. PHILOSOPHY OF HISTORY: AN INTRODUCTION. but it has important limitations. They are often justified in circular fashions. However. it is not self-evident.31 To deal with these attacks of epistemological fragility. as per one grand theory of the universe. He details out the first.H. This may seem logically coherent.32 W. and thus. Thus. one cannot create justified historical descriptions. However. Walsh details out two main theories of truth. suffers from the assertion of truth as being defined with reference to coherence. 33 Id. This theory. 72-93. thus allowing them to revised. for this means that truth can be defined by the historian. Thus. at 41. and allows sources to be prioritized by the selection process. This justification is sought to be provided in the next chapter. Walsh.H. 31 32 Jenkins. we see that historical facts are not the perfect examples of objectivity that they are claimed to be. historians draw their interpretations from facts. . (1960). but rather a convenient and fabricated standard. There is an alternative. supra note 6. but also subject to the interpretations by the historians in formulating those descriptions. Facts thus are defined to be true by the historian. which is the correspondence theory that the truth of a statement is guaranteed by its relation to facts (which in this paradigm is taken to mean sources). and secondly historical evidences cannot be assessed for their validity. but simply plausible descriptions. however.33 This theory accepts the creation of facts by the historian. historians often resort to theories of truth that help the historian remove the issue of arbitrariness in determining facts. then the justification must be provided.What we see here then that the historical descriptions are justified according to not only problematic sources. based on a faith in the facts intrinsically allowing for the derivation of those interpretations. if the author is to proceed with the notion of justified historical descriptions as facts. This theory allows sources to be relative. W. by stating that theories create facts. which is the coherence theory. when he gives a coherent meaning to them within the larger theory. but rather simply traces or representations that are fraught with the subjectivity of selection. and give assurances of validity. that firstly experiences are ignored under this theory for they cannot carry the guarantee of certainty documents have. since sources themselves are not authentic components of the past.
However.html (Last visited on May 20. available at http://www. 6 UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: HISTORY REVIEW. history is ‘no more than a tissue of mutually supporting probabilities’.36 Thus historical facts are mutually supported by each other. at 59. and the historian supplying those facts desires this. Morals and Politics. 38 B.37 This is only possible if the above stated argument plays out. 34(1) INTERNATIONAL AFFAIRS. the historians cannot ever confirm these conclusions from the concerned subjects. and thus.B. supra note 17. Hitler‟s actions are considered immoral in those circles which deem them so . Shades of Revisionism: Holocaust Denial and the Conservative Call to Reinterpret German History. yet they are shunned from the international community from simply that reason (which further prompted the Holocaust denial as a clamour for acceptance38). „The Historian chooses to try to explain. at 6. 34 The now-famous quote that „history is a series of accepted judgements’35 may be built upon by giving the notion of the fact being whatever is judged to be the most acceptable description of an event. 36 Stanford. at 6. finally of agreement in some community. supra note 16. Carr‟s example of Kitson Clark citing a little known event in his lecture indicates that the process by which a fact of the past becomes a historical fact.CHAPTER TWO If facts cannot draw their validity from sources or from historians. 39 Knight. Michael Stanford supports this by stating that historians reach different conclusions based on the probability of events taking place.the supporters of Nazis did not disagree. supra note 17. 37 G. 1. then how are facts justified in history? One must resort to Carr here. and then chooses among possible explanation…the result is a matter of judgment. supra note 14. (January 1958). then he or she shall have to cater to their standard of morality. Barraclough. 13. Weber. and these probabilities reinforce each other. History. involves that fact being affirmed by the community of historians. The problem with this is highlighted when G. . 2013). by the historical community.for if the consensus of historians is contingent on historical facts describing those actions as hazardous. Iggers states that historical facts can be 34 35 Carr.uvm. creating a consensus of conclusions regarding these events. thus ensuring their occurrence beyond a reasonable level of doubt. Barraclough mentions that all historians can join each other in condemning those actions which have morally hazardous consequences. 39 Historians however claim that they utilise standards and methodologies to arrive at definite facts. at 593. Barraclough as cited in Carr.edu/~hag/histreview/vol6/weber.
This is evident from Renier‟s argument. at 53. within a particular community. historical facts are ultimately given that status by the community as per the desires of that community at a particular point of time. 43 Renier. belief in facts requires the cooperation of historians. Broadly. 13.G. at 588-9. we see that facts get aligned in historical writing according to the direction towards which a particular discourse (of which the concerned historian is part) is moving.assessed by critical methods that are agreed upon by the practitioners of the discipline. the intellectualism creates a code of professional jargon. is a false but uncontested assumption. Iggers. supra note 16. 55. (1978). Chesneaux. However. which in turn requires harmony between their conceptions of values (such as justice or equality). 16. Renier states that while Voltaire called Mazzarini a builder of absolutism. Frank Knight says that even the validity of sources themselves requires their endorsement by many. Further. it is Voltaire‟s account that is regarded as more acceptable. 44 J.45 What this means is that historical assumptions can only be countered within that framework of jargon. another historian.41 Truth of the statement itself. THE TRUTH ABOUT HISTORY. 40 This means that historical facts are ultimately created by historical consensus. if the evidence itself is subject to biased. (2003). 42 Habermas as cited in C. McCullagh. Cherul wished to describe Mazzarini in a fashion that was part of a larger movement in France at the time to find relief in the power of the past. André Cherul gave his own account of Mazzarini which was more tempered. who agree on the basis of the evidence. Habermas states42. understandable to only other historians. Thus. PAST AND FUTURES AND WHAT IS HISTORY FOR. supra note 8. (1997). The problem with this is the issue of exclusivity and perpetuity. who was deemed villainous by Voltaire. Chesneaux criticises history for having a deeply entrenched sense of intellectualism that for him. Knight. Thus. 45 Id. This makes it increasingly plausible that statements become historical facts. is granted by the consensus between historians. Renier states an example of Mazzarini43.44 Further. then so is the consensus which grants that status of truth. with the undercurrents of their historical works often reflecting the dispositions of these societies at that particular point in time. at 94. TH . Today. HISTORIOGRAPHY IN THE 20 CENTURY. Historians are influenced by the societies of which they are part. Marwick clearly establishes how new interpretations may be rejected 40 41 G. Later. when a number of historians agree that it suits them to do so. by which to judge facts.B.
but also states that his writings are unlikely to be considered as history due to lack of basis in Historical Facts47. for it prevents history from expanding and including the histories of societies that are not Western. this hypocritical position is heavily problematic. supra note 27. as per the jargon decided by that community. the author states that his writings are useful in detailing out the history of China and in understanding the role of history in formulating policy. then disproving it becomes incrementally difficult. The Myth of Historical Evidence. THE TRUTH OF HISTORY. This shows the exclusivity the Western historical discourse displays. (2003). 296-300. if the interpretation is not in good faith. Brendan McCullagh agrees that if certain facts are granted legitimacy by an entire community of supporting scholars. that not catching them is not possible. certain facts become increasingly standardized as absolute truths. 49 See B. (28) THE CHINA QUARTERLY. thus maintaining a Western hegemony on „important‟ knowledge. This allows for the discrimination of certain accounts of histories. The 1980s show the rise of the historical conflict regarding the Holocaust. it makes the uncovering of biases difficult. This may sound absurd. by simply being used and advocated a number of times. at 241. Further.L. 59(4) THE SCIENTIFIC MONTHLY. The logic behind Carr‟s example of the fish swimming in the ocean can be extended to those fish which have caught and re-caught by so many. The Great Aryan Myth. 110.48 BC Hurst further argues that if a particular description is supported by a vast number of narratives. 50 Yet it was regarded as practically solid fact by a number of historians. and tied together with Hegelian notions for the purposes of achieving a sense of justified superiority. biases and conceptions of facts can vary across communities. and only when sufficient number of data is produced to counter the existing notion can the notion be changed. An extreme example of this is the Holocaust denial.B. It was largely an issue of whether 46 47 Marwick. Dunlap. due to the position of the historian in society. See H. 278-290. Boorman. primarily on their need for the certainty that „facts‟ lend. . but the point is that certain facts have been utilised so many times (such as the famous „Caesar crossing the Rubicon’ description) that they are accepted as axiomatic. 20(3) HISTORY AND THEORY.by the ‘ever-ready police battalions of the historical guild’46. by communities on methodology alone. Hurst. Further. McCullagh. Mao Tse-Tung as a Historian. 48 C. (October-December 1966). as it was never really based on evidences. (October 1944). (October 1981). In a piece about Mao Tse-tung‟s conception of history. 82-105. 50 See K. but rather on a linguistic analysis misconstrued as an indicator of race. 49 The Aryan theory is an excellent example.C. Considering that facts in fact grant little certainty.
However. supra note 38. Thus. This structures draw out from the intellectualism that Chesneaux pointed out earlier.and if so. that Germans feel immense guilt.53 Thus. or to at least reduce its importance. It was claimed that many of the reports of atrocities were exaggerated. This is looked upon in the next chapter. who was fairly respected in the community. but this does not allow the atrocities committed by Germans to be considered acceptable. supra note 38. he published a paper attempting to establish the genesis of Nazism. which can only be considered to be a deliberate omission.51 The conservatives wished to either deny the abhorrence of the Nazi period. or to blame the Nazis as separate from the rest of Germans. the role of a particular historian. to state that the Germans must face that part of their history which is negative. 51 52 Weber. must be focused on.history is a discriminatory field of knowledge. In 1946. another aspect overlooked. If different conceptions of historical facts are asserted by different communities. while it can be said that historical facts are historical descriptions justified as per the desires and interests of a particular community. He wished to dissociate the German people and the Nazis. in order to reduce its historical significance. or to compare it to other events. we see two conflicting conceptions of facts being argued simultaneously by two representatives of two opposing communities. supra note 38. Weber. Friedrich Meinecke. two major issues arise. a fact he overlooked. He criticises the proponents of the Holocaust Denial from understanding the role of the Allies in stopping the Holocaust. 53 Weber. but most Germans did support the Nazi rule. how much Germany is to blame for the Holocaust. Habermas provides a justification. However. he goes on further. and further wished to be dissociated from the crimes of their parents. . then how do certain conceptions gain acceptance? This hoodwinking can only take place if there are certain structures which allow for this to happen. but he ignored the Holocaust entirely. in order to maintain their respect in the long run. 52 Meinecke further attempted to blame others‟ actions as equally evil.
importance ensures that the content is widelyread. supra note 44. supra note 29. in order to achieve some purpose. at 161. which is other historians. neither an inexcusable choice by the historian. the French 54 55 W. However. . 56 Chesneaux. 59 Chesneaux.59 He gives examples of aboriginal Indians of the United States. See H.CHAPTER THREE It must be clarified that it is not being said that histories are outright fabrications. So while those in power create histories that legitimize that position. The issue with this is that such skewing is more difficult to contest. 243. supra note 44. and asserted as the truth. 235. 18(2) SOCIAL HISTORY. at 19. due to the power structures created within a particular community. those who are oppressed use history to empower mass movements. at 58-59. at 25-28.58 He goes on to argue that facts are manipulated to create histories favourable to those creating them. to make it interesting is to identify one‟s target audience correctly. supra note 16. at 594. It has been safely concluded various communities create various skewed conceptions of historical descriptions of events. from the sources themselves. precluding pure invention from entering the domain of acceptable histories. but rather they are distorted in favour of certain prejudices. Easthope.54 Sources cannot be ignored in the establishment of facts. and reality is distorted as per the desires of the oppressive regime. To make content important is to ensure that it is memorable. (May 1993). supra note 44. He desires a utopian past to reassure his position (and the position of the community he represents) in the present. more so than the public. Thomson. the larger issue is the skewing of historical descriptions by communities.55 Thus. Chesneaux argues how power structures supervise the knowledge base regarding the past.56 The desire of the historian is to create that historical past from which he would want to descend from.57 Thus. 58 Chesneaux. the skewing of descriptions by historians themselves is explainable. and thus. 57 A. however. White as cited in Knight. This does not safeguard one against historical facts being skewed in their construction. tries to construct such a past. if not justified. as detailed out earlier. Romancing the Stone: History-Writing and Rhetoric. This skewing in practice of explanation of historical events towards one side of the spectrum is not an exceptional. Sources are destroyed or fabricated.
Renier states that historical knowledge is inherited by new historians as part of their education. at 55-7. 63 Chesneaux. he states that the commercialisation of history has made historical knowledge a market good.J. Further. supra note 44. 62 Chesneaux. at 60. supra note 44. one must play by the rules set by those at the top. Chesneaux details out how these power structures compartmentalize and control historical knowledge by indoctrinating new historians in favour of their version of history. Jenkins states that the dominant discourse does not merely present facts as they are. Chesneaux does recognise exceptions. Further. by doing so. at 88.Revolution and the struggle of Chinese peasants against feudalism to indicate this process of struggle based on history. the existing systems label historians on the basis of their work. supra note 44. but leaves them at that. Subjects are chosen by those running the educational institutions and certain specialised fields are incentivised by the recognition given by the scholarly community. at 59. at 54. subject to its vagaries and the interests of the public. 60 61 Jenkins. To be accepted as part of that culture involves the copying of those academics that constitute it.62 Chesneaux details out how the historian‟s career of the researcher. 65 Chesneaux. but also reinforces the intellectual‟s hold over history. Further. supra note 6. the aura of intellectualism allows historians to advocate a particular format of education that must be learnt by new historians in order to become part of a particular community. This capitalistic capture of historical knowledge forces historians (most of them at least) to cater to populist demands. 64 Chesneaux.60G. Renier. by the transmission of a certain culture.61 This intellectualism thus not only indoctrinates new historians. (as is usually claimed). while also incentivising their compliance by promotions through the power mechanisms.63 To climb the pyramid. at 64. the power structure being those from the Ivy League. „historians help to keep the machine of existing society in operation’. supra note 8. the direction his material and publications are to take is shaped entirely by the promotion mechanisms engrained within the profession that manifests in the form of commercial control.65 He gives the example of Charles Beard in the United States.64 Thus. but rather it is concerned with ensuring the perpetuity of its dominance. who was boycotted by the power structures of the historical community for thirty years. . supea note 44. thus preventing them from ever getting a holistic look at the historical field.
69 Munslow. Here. supra note 6. Objective facts do not exist. supra note 44. available at http://www.ufl. The facts thus cannot be the final standard of assessment. at the level of different communities. and outside of interpretation. It describes the role of power in a discourse and how knowledge both frames and is framed by the exercise and control over 66 67 Chesneaux.69 Thus. . those descriptions that are created by those dominant within the community are extended as a truth. Language is a new basis on which historical facts are created in a skewed manner. This means that through language. at 60. the objectivity of facts is difficult to accept as it is due to the intellectualism and consensus of the historical community that notions of facts are accepted as objective.edu/users/pcraddoc/barthes. peer review is not so much peer as it is review by those in power. history creates a conception of the reality that it seeks to write about.htm (Last visited on May 20. at the level of the discourse. historians often ignore the fact that they placed that „objective‟ fact in the first place. Barthes. those with influence are deemed so by their ability to represent the interests of that community. Here. within a cultural framework. these influential historians perpetuate that notion of history that serves those interests. 3 COMPARATIVE CRITICISM. Foucault‟s theory of power/knowledge comes into play. supra note 5. favoured those in power. for they themselves are descriptions existing within our framework of interpretation. there is a larger stage at which the skewing takes place along structures of dominance. we see that within a particular community. as they do not exist outside of one‟s position. Ratification by those with reputations controls the historical body of knowledge. He states that facts are placed beyond the particular discourse and asserted as fixed standards that can be used to validate theories within the discourse. at 35. further. language and discourse play an important role in the creation of historical facts. However. history claims a notion of objectivity or truth that is derived from facts that it is itself places there. 2013). as part of the discourse. As Roland Barthes points out67. Nietzsche comes in as he argues that truth as a notion was designed to advance interests and interpretations that. and presents its products as that reality. Thus. R. The Discourse of History.thus buying into the dominant order of the time. as well as the differences in their conceptions across various societies. In actuality. and historical knowledge. 68Thus.66 It is commercialisation and the power structure that controls the historical community. at 61. 68 Barthes as cited in Jenkins.clas. however.
73 Jenkins‟ reinterpretation of Skidelsky‟s theory of position of historical facts applies here as well. This not only shows how objectivity is not possible. supra note 39. 74 Jenkins. instead of it being imposed by them70. but also in terms of the basic essential process 70 71 Thomson. Historical change does ultimately take place according to the change in dominant powers of the time thus changing the waysin determining the role of interpretation and historical creation in giving meaning to historical facts. that certain discursive practices become dominant. at 151. supra note 1. 184-7. either by incorporating them into the mainstream. at 44. at 87. at 154. 72 nd A. Thomson. Although he has been criticised. not inherent truth or objectivity from facts. Oppressed classes are rebelling against their „historically-justified’ oppression. at 80. the positioning of historians according to certain places within a discourse remains contained within that discourse. supra note 39. such as the struggles by the Corsicans and Catalans in France. the hegemony of the ruling classes over the history of the concerned region is being challenged. 2006). or by using the post-modern movement to reject histories outright. 73 Tosh. Hayden White goes further to state that historical facts are created from evidence by the exercise of power manifested in the form of figures of speech. supra note 6. Jenkins goes on to show how the ‘dominant discursive practices attempt to control those histories which they seek to reject. the consensus based on power and reputation can be broken by rebellion. even if only Orwellian fears come to mind. supra note 44.power. Munslow. DECONSTRUCTING HISTORY.72 Foucault‟s notion of discourse extends it from being a language pattern. his ideas are difficult to completely ignore71. at 187. 76 Chesneaux. thus reducing their oppositional nature (which granted them the attention they needed). supra note 6. to it being a regulatory tool that confines people to certain conceptions. He even details out how this takes place by knowledge being internalised by the oppressed. For Foucault history ratifies the exercise of power. . Chesneaux points out how with migration and the capitalistic order. The ideological positioning of a historian shapes his viewpoint and his position within a particular discourse. Since different discourses get placed differently in a continuous spectrum. (2 edition. but it cannot extend to a fixed position on the spectrum of history. 75 Jenkins.74 Thus a historian‟s viewpoint that a particular fact is universally accepted cannot be applied beyond the limits of his „universe‟ within his discourse.Further. but how it is through the exercise of power.76 Thus.75 However. these discursive practices are not absolute.
Dobson and B. then the most theoretical accurate definition is that historical facts are statements about the past. What does this mean for history. and thus are given meaning along the dominant discursive practices manifested across different communities and thus these can be defined and redefined with changes in discursive practices. Ziemann eds. Discourses are constantly in flux. not how facts are to be assessed. 77 Different Thus. what are historical facts. . the author hopes to answer these questions. as a final reminder. communities also exist along which historical interpretations can fluctuate. Only two questions remain. ultimately when we ask the question. that are determined by the historical community. In his conclusion.. Ziemann in READING PRIMARY SOURCES. 12. Dobson and B. (M. Further. 77 M. objectivity can no longer be claimed from facts. and what replaces objectivity? Consensus formation only provides us with an explanation of how facts arise. 2009).of forming historical facts themselves. whose validity is based upon acceptance by the majority of the community.
CONCLUSION Considering the impact of historians on public opinion78. P. legitimacy can be based on plausibility. Sources still exist. This questioning of facts asserted. Novick. at 197. supra note 1. THAT NOBLE DREAM. greater attention can be given to history‟s ability to predict.(what can crudely be considered to consist of) histories of various societal factions. However. greater legitimacy can be granted by those histories which can declare their biases and still cross boundaries to gain acceptance from those outside their support base. but creating those histories which appeal to a larger class. a desirable goal in itself as per Barraclough. however. 80 Barraclough. However. With the dispersal of the myth of objectivity due to this assertion being dumped. while history can allow for people to question that plausibility. It is a question of semantics. at 77-84. the historian suggests that it is necessary to accept that historical facts are not absolute truths. 81 See Hurst. at 4. there is no reason why historical facts cannot be considered to do the same for its product. instead of them being considered a myth. supra note 37. and can still be used to support facts (or rather beliefs). is that firstly. He the idea of objectivity being a myth ensuring that the subject of history has value of cohesion79. and the change in their notion as beliefs can ensure more sceptical decision-making based instead on one‟s values rather than on descriptions that are impossible to ascertain for sure. 82 Tosh. Thus the legitimacy that is drawn from facts can be based instead on belief in their occurrence. What this means for history. it would provide greater leeway for making moral judgements. certain irrefutable „facts‟ like the fall of Constantinople can instead be considered to be strongly supported beliefs. and express the subjectivity contained within their work. 82 Drawing from Jenkins83. Hurst says that once evidence is recognised as (largely) fabrication. problems arise. by bringing in and recognising subjectivity. with recognition that it is belief. supra note 6. 83 Jenkins. Thus. to allow for change. but rather opinions about events. but an important one to break structures in society that base themselves on facts. (1988).80 Further. Tosh provides a standard by which legitimacy of an identity can be drawn by creating histories that appeal to members not associated with that identity. . it is only fair to expect contemporary historians to dump the assertion of concrete historical facts. Peter Novick provides a solution.81 Finally. supra note 37. at 1-4. 10.as well. This is the ultimate end78 79 Barraclough. supra note 49.
supra note 77. historians need not worry. for they can continue to do history. This will hopefully make history a more accepting discourse. as new descriptions espousing greater plausibility than existing ones arise. power structures themselves can change. except with the necessary recognition that everything is subject to change. and write history84. 84 Dobson and Ziemann. Thus. such as collate sources. at 14.goal in restating a historical fact as a „historical plausibility‟. .
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