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Tuesday 15 September 2009

The decline of history

Those of you have read a lot of my rants, ramblings and articles in recent times will notice a certain bent towards combatting pseudohistory. History, unlike science, doesn't have a straightforward testable system to establish "truth". However, it does have a fairly sound methods for researching, investigating and establishing facts. The historian acknowledges famously touted expressions such as the one found in the novel "Roots" that "The winners write history" and Napoleon's famous line that "History is a set of lies agreed upon", but he understands by the value of such methods as Occam's Razor, use of empirical evidence and the objective study of various primary source material that he can arrive closer to the truth than the speculator, the fantasist, the propaganda merchant, the conspiracist, the hyperdiffusionist, the extreme postmodernist and other examples of the pseudohistorian. Such opposition to this propagation of false history led me to read such excellent books as "In Defence of History", "Counterknowledge", "Real Enemies", "Reclaiming History" and "Denying History", which are brilliant guides for anyone who feels a little overwhelmed by the attitude that all accounts of the past are equal.

Nevertheless, as much at it vexes me to see another Dan Brown novel being promoted left, right and centre I need to acknowledge that there is perhaps a far larger problem happening. A good friend of mine once advised me to avoid "them versus us". It was a sound observation. I come from a minority culture - circus people - and a minority subculture - martial artists - and therefore I am no stranger to the feelings of having a siege-like mentality. Rather than just opposing pseudohistorians I need to understand what is happening in our society. Some of the above books provide excellent insights into the psychology of populist movements influencing the way we look at the past. However, perhaps there is something else behind the paranoia evoked by the Freedom of Information Act or the academia of postmodernism. Perhaps there it is simply a case, as Dominic Sandbrook muses in his fascinating article below, that as less and less history is being taught in schools in favour of vocational work, the demand outside continues to grow.

The big fight for those who believe in history is to keep history!

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