Skip to main content

The Evolution of History -- Writer's Poke #253

A student of a colleague of mine recently got very upset with him because he used Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States as the class's textbook. She didn't appreciate what she saw as Zinn's liberal slant. Of course until very recently, the common person wasn't even worth historical investigation. History has typically been reserved for gods and generals.

"Does history change?" I ask my students. Of course it does, one responded. After all, historians dig into the archives, find out new information, and that new evidence changes the way we think about what has happened.

In truth, history is all about evidence, to be sure. But more than that, it's about focus and interpretation. And, that, my friends, is why history changes. There is no such thing as the past. It's all constructed. And as Winston Churchill himself once said, "History is written by the victors." That doesn't mean that all victors are liars, but it does indicate that history is slanted.

Maybe slanted history isn't a bad thing? After all, Emily Dickinson encouraged us to "Tell all the truth but tell it slant." Of course she was basically saying what Jack Nicholson would say a century later in A Few Good Men: "You want the truth? You can't handle the truth."

How does history evolve? Do you feel uneasy about the virtue of a truth told slant?

"History is the present. That's why every generation writes it anew. But what most people think of as history is its end product, myth." -- E. L. Doctorow

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Summer Day Trip #1: Caledonia, Minnesota

The Wired Rooster Coffee Shoppe -- Caledonia, Minnesota


I've lived in Minnesota for over ten years, sure, but that doesn't mean I've actually seen much of the state. Like most people, I know what I know, and I go where I go. And that's the extent of it. But once I resigned myself to the fact that I wasn't going to make it to Alaska this summer, it occurred to me that I had plenty of sites to explore in the immediate region.

First stop: Caledonia, Minnesota. Where's that? It's a small town in the southeast corner of the state. Before I opened my Rand McNally Road Atlas, I had never heard of it, and before I punched the town name into Trip Advisor, I didn't know if there was anything there worth visiting.

Distance from home: About 75 miles.

Challenge #1: Leaving by 6:30 a.m.

Challenge #2: Taking my dog, Atticus.

Actually, Atticus is a good dog on a road trip, but the forecast indicated that it was going to get into the 90s. I wanted to leave early in the …

Summer Day Trip #3: Jackson, Minnesota

Some time ago in the spring, I found out that David Ellefson, bass player and co-founder of Megadeth, was rebranding the coffee shop in Jackson, Minnesota. Every so often I would tell Linda that I planned to drive over there to check it out, but the morning that I actually decided to drive over there to check it out, I think I surprised her. I’m not sure she thought I would ever do it.
“What else are you going to do over there?”
“Oh, that’s it. Just drive over there, order a cup of coffee, and drive home.”
I had checked out Jackson on Tripadvisor, and honestly, Jackson seemed like it didn’t have much going on. My mind map of southwestern Minnesota was mainly a blank. I knew that I-90 drove through, but I thought perhaps the interstate was a metaphor: Beware ye who enter here, lest ye be on your way to somewhere else.
When I told Tavi we were driving two hours to visit a coffee shop, the idea didn’t seem far-fetched to her. She only had one question, “Do they serve hot cocoa?” I promised …