Don’t Know Much About History

You know the saying that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing? That is only true if you run around thinking that you’re smarter than you are. I know a little bit about history which I am starting to learn is a lot more than a ton of other people.

Think about the concept of history for a second. It is a story. It is a story of perspective that becomes fact. In a lot of ancient history we only know facts or what we make of the facts and we may not have honest accounts of everything. Think about the Roman Civil War. It was nice of Julius Caesar to write everything done but he wrote it all from Julius Caesar’s perspective.

When we get to more modern history we sometimes get the account from both sides but there aren’t always two sides to an issue. Think about the American Civil War. That has become a hotly debated topic and most everyone has an opinion. We have letters, memoirs, archeological dig sights, battlefields, and all sorts of other accounts. Things were written down really well and nicely from all sides involved. Yet we still don’t have the full view.

History is full of nuance and because we are human we hate nuance. Nuance is difficult and doesn’t make a nice or easy story. We can look at a historical event and even if we know exactly what happened we are often left without a why.

In the case of the American Civil War the people involved wrote down their why but then they changed their minds and wrote down a new why. They held reunions and get-togethers and excommunicated those that told the story of the original why. This is how the myth of the lost cause came to be. The new why took over the old one and that was history, and now people want to restore the original why and people fight against it.

History is a battle of narratives. The first thing you learn with a little bit of knowledge is that the people with lots and lots of knowledge like to disagree. There isn’t such a thing as truth. There is only perspective and argument. Good, strong arguments are backed up by facts while weak arguments are not, but sometimes a weak argument is more interesting and it can make it into print and then it can be cited and then it can become something like a fact for future people to claim as evidence.

When it comes to history all we can ever have is a little bit of knowledge. It is near impossible to do anything more than scratch the surface. Consider there are people who spend their entire lives studying obscure figures. Somewhere there is a Francis Lewis scholar and he has written 27 books and published countless essays on a man the general public has no idea ever existed in the first place.

I don’t know much about history but what I do know is it is a lot more complicated than people wish it to be.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s