Thursday, November 5, 2009

Blog #26 - What is history?

"History is the witness that testifies to the passing of time; it illuminates reality, vitalizes memory, provides guidance in daily life, and brings us tidings of antiquity." Cicero 1

"What experience and history teach is this-that people and governments never have learned anything from history, or acted on principles deduced from it." G. W. F. Hegel 1

"History does nothing, possesses no enormous wealth, fights no battles. It is rather man, the real, living man, who does everything, possesses, fights. It is not History, as if she were a person apart, who uses men as a means to work out her purposes, but history itself is nothing but the activity of men pursuing their purposes." Karl Marx 1

During the 18th and 19th Centuries, history and what it means underwent a major transformation. As we read in the Romanticism chapter, von Herder described history as a dynamic process. He also went on to add that each historical epoch had its own characteristics.

While today, we might see this insight and say, "duh!", others would disagree. Rush Limbaugh, famous conservative radio show talk, has said that history is simple: facts are facts, in essence, indisputable. However, most historians would say that history is about how you interpret those facts.

For instance, there was a terrorist attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001 (by saying the event was a terrorist attack is including my interpretation of the event). How would someone interpret this event? Do you deal with just the facts only? How do you deal with the facts when they are being seriously questioned - even if some of the questioners are using dubious physics and logic? And do we have all of the facts?

If you interpret this event, from what angle do you do this? Do you agree with George Bush that we were attacked by "enemies of freedom" in "a world where freedom itself is under attack"? 2 That we were attacked for no reason than pure hatred?

Or do you interpret the terrorist attack as the end result of American foreign policy in the Middle East - our inability to solve the Palestinian problem, our support of Arab dictators in exchange for cheap oil? That we were attacked b/c the U.S. abused its power and spread poverty throughout the affected countries?

Or do you interpret the attacks as something different: the forces of modernity (America) vs. medievalism (radical brand of Islam)? That this attack has little or nothing to do with either thesis listed before but has more to do with a battle of civilizations in a fight for supremacy of the world?

The Question: In essence, when you examine history, do you use the facts only or do you use the facts to make an interpretation of what has happened?

Use the 9/11/01 example if you like, or come up with one of your own.
200 words minimum, due Monday 11/9/09.



  1. While I appricate that you would allow us to use your example, I have my own, more preffered one. The Bible. Now I know that it is a touchy subject, which is why I may be the only one using this example. The Bible is the most sold book worldwide, mostly for religous and cultural studies. However, both ways invovle translating the book how the readers or teachers percive it to be. Even the writers of this script wrote what they heard from a man, therefore already making it a fluid, not solid, book of morals and ideas. Just taking the moral examples of the "good book" makes it subjective to translation because not everyone has the same morals. None of what a man says can be taken as true fact, that nowadays would just be absurd. So when a book that has influenced wars and the majority of today's population is written by people who take the acts of someone who claims to have miricals, well, that is miraculous in itself. That is why it is my belif that history is created on the foundation of man's opinion of events rather than the facts which are presented. Adam Sadler

  2. I'd say you have to use interpretation. Not every single person can possibly know what happened is history. Take into account that information gets lost in translation, and facts spread by word of mouth are not necessarily accurate facts. People forget little parts, add stuff in to make it more exciting, or they will add small details to favor their opinion (to get people to agree with them). Our view on history (the US) is probably not entirely accurate, and even if it is we can’t know for sure. Plus, most people don't know they don't know every little excruciating detail about a historical event, so they just tell you the jist of it and most likely with bias.

    A great example of this can be seen in the example of the Islas Malvinas, or the Falkland islands. They are located east of Patagonia, Argentina. The Argentines, even after having lost the famous Guerra de Las Malvinas (Falklands War), still believe that the islands belong, or should belong, to their country, while Great Britain feels that they are rightfully theirs. The war itself began in the early 1980’s when the Argentines invaded in the hopes of officially reclaiming what they felt was actually their territory, from the British who had settled in the region. The UK fought against them in defense of their "overseas territory". The war only lasted 74 days, until Argentina surrendered, loosing official control over the islands. Argentines today still hold a bias against the entire ordeal. Maps in the country are more often than not seen to name the islands “Islas Malvinas" instead of the Falkland Islands, since they continue to believe they are rightfully theirs. I have lived in both countries, but was older and actually learned about the war in Argentina. Thus developing my own personal bias that clearly leans to the side of what the Argentines have led me to believe.

  3. Daniel Sherwood
    In order to interpret history I think that the most balanced way to truly look at things is by using the facts to be able to interpret the event. However, I think that someone who was to use the facts and solely the facts would still be interpreting; for in order to formulate any kind of opinion one needs to interpret. So if you use the facts you would consequently be interpreting. I think that the difference is made by the kind of interpretation. Some people may deeply delve into the facts to squeeze as much orange juice out of their oranges as they can whereas others just peel off the skin and feel satisfied. Now I think that the most knowledge is gained when more interpretation has coincided with the person’s opinion, so that’s how I choose to interpret history. Anything historical is obviously an extremely intricate process that involves political, economical, and social issues. So no historical event can be looked at from one point of view due to the fact that there are so many different people’s thoughts and opinions on what has happened. The best way to interpret history is by keeping in mind ALL the facts so you can really know what’s happening.

  4. In essence, history is like a “connect the dots” puzzle. Each fact exists by itself separate from any other fact, just like a dot. Some dots are right next to each other, and the line connecting them is obvious and straight. Other dots are spread out and, no matter how you try, the line connecting them is a bit curved or twisted. Sometimes the obvious line is wrong and the long, convoluted one is right. Regardless, it is the outline created by connecting the dots, not the dots themselves, that creates the final picture. There is no story to history without interpretation. To see more than a series of events and read into it any significance or noteworthiness requires interpretation. If we simply looked at the facts without interpretation, the invention of the atomic bomb is on an equal status with James I of England picking his nose. Whether there is one “right” picture to be created by connecting these dots or if there are innumerable possibilities that are equally acceptable is, in my opinion, a religious matter. To believe that there is one right interpretation of history requires a belief in some higher power placing each dot with a specific purpose in mind. Otherwise, history is like playing connect the dots on a polka dot pattern, where the possibilities are endless and the end result meaningless.

    -Alex Aginian

  5. I think that we use facts in history to interpret what has happened. In history there are several things that are still unknown to historians. Like who created the Stone Henge? Or Miracles that were described in the bible can’t be explained by historians. You can’t analyze an event or historical figure with just facts. For example on 9/11/01 when terrorist attacked the World Trade Center. A lot of theories developed into the reasons of the actions. George Bush claimed that it was a terrorism attack that was directed towards freedom. Al-Qaeda would call it a huge step in their radical and fundamentalist movement for the religion of Islam.
    As humans, we use history to learn from our past mistakes. Interpretations are made in order to help improve our future to avoid the past. For example America has used the dust bowl and the great depression as lesson in order for us to improve our economy. The fact was that it had happen due to certain causes, but one might interpret how circumstances led to the great depression. Even through out history many have use natural disaster and claimed them to come from a divine power and of those people many had to distinguish whether it was a blessing or not.

    Collin Parson
    2nd hour

  6. To say that we only use facts to examine history would be a lie. Not to go on to say that we lie about all history, but when looking in our own texts books that are studied in school, the history is our own.
    we use our facts, our outlook on what has happened, so it would seem only right to come to the conclusion that any history recorded is never only facts.
    We use the basic outline of what we know happened of course, but the battles, the wars, the events are told from a point of view that is not universal, it's told from one side. It is our interpretation of what has happened, where as there is a whole one or more sides to the same event. Yet we never read about those views in our text books. I cannot recal one time where we have gone over a battle on both sides, looked at the fact that to another nation, we may have been the horrible force. To ask the question if one person interprets history through the facts or uses only fact seems to be an impossible question to answer, since in truth, history isn't even told as pure fact in any text we have. It is told from a point of view, one stand point on the event, and that one stand point is someone's interpretation of what has taken place.

  7. I think that we use the facts to make an interpretation of what has happened. A fact is not always something that we know firsthand. Sometimes we use evidence to piece together parts of a puzzle to make a fact. The facts that we then have we use to make an interpretation of what we think has happened. For example, we do not know firsthand who exactly is responsible for September 11, but we have used the evidence that we have collected to make an interpretation of what happened that day. We can think that we know what happened that day, but the sad truth is that no one lived to tell what exactly happened on the planes that crashed into the twin towers. Then you have to look at it from different angles to get the most accurate facts. You have to wonder and question why this happened to our country. You also have to figure out who exactly would cause all of this pain for a country. Then you have to question how many people planned this, and for how long. We can question all of this over and over and think that we know the answer, but really we might not. We have used facts to make an interpretation of what has happened.

  8. You use the facts to make an interpretation of what’s happened. History contains numerous facts, such as dates, times, and events, but I believe it is how we interpret those facts in order to build and forge and greater society in the past. For example, we were the first country to drop the atomic bomb, and we have participated in two world wars. Ultimately, we have realized if we continue the destruction of the 20th century into the 21st century, then we will definitely come close to global annihilation and despair. Nowadays, there are millions and millions and protestors of nuclear weapons and the people are looking for a peaceful era; what Gandhi describes as the 21st century “the century of life”. People may interpret our destructive past as the answer; people believe it is due to the atomic that we “won” the war, and that it can be used again to win other wars. However, others like I believe that everybody loses a war, and that we need to learn from the 19th century to ever participate in such mass violence ever again. Ultimately you use the facts to make an interpretation of what has happened, in essence, so that we can learn from history and move toward positive change.

    John Cassetta
    2nd Hour

  9. When examining history, you can not solely depend on the facts. One of the major reasons for this is that in several cases, the facts are inaccurate and for the facts that are accurate, there usually aren’t enough to give the reader/examiner the full amount of knowledge they need in order to understand history correctly. Because history is so long, we haven’t lived through the majority of it so we haven’t seen firsthand what occurred. You need to use the facts to form your own interpretation of what happened. Either way, once you examine any facts, you form an opinion. Facts are the root of interpretation. The more sound opinions are formed when you interpret all the facts. However, some people like to dissect the facts and base their opinions solely off of that. These people are to obsessed with the facts and not concerned with forming opinions. Facts themselves can go a long way, but I think when one gets a full understanding of the facts and dives deeper into their meaning, that is when the interpretation is most accurate and the best examination has taken place. A huge factor that determines the future of mankind is history and that is why it is important to understand history the correctly.
    Nawar Dimitry 2nd Period

  10. Personally when examining history I don’t pay attention to the fact because I know many times they are altered. Facts don’t show how history has altered people’s lives of really how many people died in the incident directly or indirectly. I use the facts of the people and what people said about the incident rather than what the news said. I like books from people who actually experienced something historical not just someone talking about it that saw it on the news or pictures of the event. Making and interpretation of what has happen is better because it is more sympathetic of the situation and I can honestly imagine what has happen on the inside of the hearts of people. I go of what I think is right and fight thru all the opinions of false reporter and leaders just trying to make themselves look good. When 9/11 happen Bush seemed sympathetic on TV but in the white house they didn’t even want to investigate for the families of the victims. That’s why I can’t trust what is being said and portray in the so called facts. Facts haves been changed many time throughout the years and still are going to change in the upcoming years. Never trust something that can’t be written in stone.

    Alanna Albritton

  11. When examining history, I would use both; the facts and I would use the facts to interpret what happened. How do we know that each fact is true? We interpret our facts to make sure they are the right information, as well as leading us to more answers. For example, September 11th, we have the fact that the person behind it was Osama Ben Ladin, but we have not found him yet. We use our facts to find out the people behind it and why such a terrible thing happened, but we also then interpret the facts to find out more detail from the attack. Who else was involved and how could they possibly have been let on the plane after going through security? If we can interpret our facts, we can trace back into history and that could help us lead to new answers. You also have to think of the idea on why this happened to our country? Is it just hatred? Or is there a reason in the attackers mind for their actions? I think that to find the facts, you must interpret everything you have and get down to the bottom of things. No one really knows what exactly happened on those planes that crashed into the twin towers. So how do we really know those facts are true?

  12. When I examine history I go off what I think is right. Facts have been altered and changed for many years. Facts come from opinions but research is never wrong. I like to research history and find out what things come from and how they came about. Facts have changed in many different ways and will always continue to change. With so many changes and alters you can never trust with they say. I have had an experience where I have read facts about western heritage and learned something different in my history class. So I took it upon myself to research it and put things together that I thought was right and eventually I figured it out. About 9/ 11 there was no final proof or any good facts about what really happened and why it happened. There where so many different reports and facts about the attack so which one could you actually reliable on or believe. My interpretation of history is what’s is seen or shown to me. Whatever is visible is proof. Once you see something from the past there is no doubt of what has really happened. Facts change the situation and never are the same. I believe that history reveals its self and using your concept of what you think is right will always be right.

    Jasmine Cain 2nd hr.

  13. I agree with alex, history is very simular to a connect- the -dots
    puzzle because one thing connects to or causes another and in the end
    it creates this whole picture that we have two choices of what to do
    with. we can interpret the picture with our own previous facts and
    opinions and talk about how we perceive it to be. or we can take the
    reason that the government has given us. When 9-11 happened everyone
    had their own personal reason why it occured . some said because of
    bush, some said because of iraq , some people said because of the oil
    situation. People use a combination of facts they are given and they
    infuse that into they're own personal interpretation of events that
    happen in history. for example my uncle who fought in the vietnam war
    can tell a story way differeny from one you would see in a history
    book. Its what he personally thought. & history is whatever we
    perceive it to be. Like adam said history is created on the foundation of man's opinion of events rather than the facts which are presented.
    history is stuff that already happened that often
    repeats because we don't learn from it.


  14. All of you are making excellent points about history and have brought up some of the serious flaws in the different ways that we think about history.

    History is our history, like Molly said, so how accurate is it? The victors right the history, so it makes the good guys look better than the losers.

    Adam, I tried to be as potentially controversial as I could w/ picking 9/11/01, but you took it one step further by going with the Bible.

    Alanna, I agree with you to an extent: I place a high value on eyewitness history, but memories are tricky things. I think facts are sticky things - I think it was John Adams who said that; we can't avoid them.

    Nawar, you bring up a good point in that people who dissect an event and look at only the facts w/o a context - maybe like the Muslim major who led the massacre at Fort Hood on Friday - can make uninformed decisions.

    Alex, I love the connect the dots metaphor and also your determinist approach, though I'd probably disagree with it to an extent.

    Collin, I wonder if people use history to learn from their mistakes or figure out a way to do it better the next time around (just so they fail in a much more spectacular way).

  15. When I examine history I usually just use facts to make an interpretation of what has happened. In the 911 attack, in my opinion, I feel they just did it out of pure hatred and possibly from all of the poverty that we have spread; as we can see since our economy is failing. I mean obviously I go off of facts in history books and such things to see what has happened in history, but when I understand the facts that I am reading or learning about then I make my own interpretation of who did what and why they did it. There could be many reasons for why people do things like 911 or the Columbine, but no one accept the person who did it in the first place knows why they did it. I don’t think I would be able to make an interpretation of history without some type of facts to go off of in the first place. I learn history mostly from all the teachers who have taught me it and I go off of a lot of what they say because there suppose to be the people who know the most about it and try to give me the facts and what their interpretation is so that I dont repeat history. This also gives me leverage on what I make of history and what my teachers teach me.

    Chelsea Koz

  16. When 9-11 happened I had no clue what was going on. Teachers and my parents just told me that planes had been crashed into important buildings. During that year I had gathered facts from various people that the President made a rash decision by just jumping into a war and that airports were going crazy with tightening security. Basically, I knew not a lot about 9-11. As I got older however I started thinking about things like why did it happen on that specific day? September 11, 2001 also 9-11 or 911 coincidence? Mostly, I went from facts though. There was series of suicide attacks by Al-Qaeda upon the United States; The hijackers purposely crashed two of the planes into the Twin Towers, the third into the Pentagon and the fourth into a field in Pennsylvania. The facts we have a true of course. I'm not all into theories or anything of why things happened but a lot of people that are don't believe the facts of that day; conspiracy theorists I suppose they're called they believe completely ridiculous things which obviously make sense to them but to most others they don't make sense. Which is why I stick to the facts.


  17. In the past, I would always want to know the facts, especially in history. But lately, I don’t even both to pay any attention to the facts in our history books because they have been altered so many times. We use the facts to interpret our opinion/belief of what happened or is happening. The media has a big influence on our society today. News shows like FOX News, interpret their side of the story, while MSNBC interpret there’s. Hurricane Katrina is a good example of this because we know why the hurricanes happen, but the thing that is still shady is why President Bush didn’t help right after it happened. Where was the police/FBI to help the innocent people get to safety? FEMA? FOX News would have backed up Bush and saying that he is doing everything that he can, while MSNBC would be saying that Bush didn’t do anything. There is always two sides to every story and we can’t base our opinion on one side of the story. On the other hand, no one really knows what Bush was doing or thinking at that time. We can’t fully trust the facts that are out there- they are changing everyday.

  18. There are always two sides to the story. I believe in some facts, but when you are dealing with a situation like 9/11, or war, etc, one side is obviously going to make them selves look like they were doing the right thing and defending their people. For example, the Middle East had their reasons to attack us. Now, I don’t think that it was right, but they did. History books are filled with facts for sure, but there is always a flip side. There will always be people on the other side, who have a different view on those “historical facts”. Facts can also very easily be misinterpreted. False information is spread everyday, and there is a difference between two sides of the story and misinterpretation of what really happened. The reason why I think that history is interpreted is because when you are given facts, you automatically form your own personal opinion on the situations. Your emotions take place, and that determines your interpretation on history.

    Casey Harrelson

  19. Examining history is vital in order to grow and prosper not only within our nation, but within the entire world. How we view our history greatly affects future actions and decisions. I agree with others before me who have said that although it is important to base past events off of facts, facts always lead to interpretation, which leads to an opinion. Take the 9/11 example. Obviously we all know the facts about the terrorists and the Twin Towers, but I believe the personal level on which this has touched us (and by touched I mean scarred) is much more effective when we reflect on this past event. Everyone has an opinion on this matter, based on the facts, however horrifying they may be. It is safe to say that we shouldn’t always let our biased opinions get in the way of clear interpretation; after all, if opinions were the only things that mattered, we would never have solutions to matters such as court cases. Opinion should come only after we have figured out exactly what has happened, then decide how to react. Another example is history books. If you take a look in a history book, there is so much side commentary. This is merely for dramatic effect, and it helps the writer drive the point home, however, this shows that nothing is left up to pure facts anymore, it is all intertwined with opinionative interpretation.
    Claire Hayes

  20. When examining history, you use the facts to make an interpretation of what has happened. When something happens, the history books will be written in different points of view. When there is a war, the winning party gets to write the history books. They will make it seem as though the “good” party won, and that the world is better because of it. This, however, may not be the case. Another example is slavery. Back in the day, slavery was considered just fine. A history book from back then may just state it as a fact and may even consider it good. Now days, on the other hind, every history book will talk about how slavery was bad. Therefore, the civil war is written to show the confederates as the bad guys. If they had won, however, the history books would have portrayed the union as the bad guys. History is tainted by outcomes and the point of view it’s being told from. In regards to the 9/11 attacks, many people thought of it as a terrorist attack and that the suicide bombers were crazy. Other people on the other hand, thought of the attack as heroic, and thought of the bombers as heroes. One side saw an attack of innocent people. Another side saw it as making an imposing power see that they cannot just take over the world. There are many sides to every story, and since history is just the story of the past, it will just be an interpretation of what occurred. Not necessarily straight facts.

  21. To understand history, I believe that we use facts to interpret the event. There are many things that are not known in history, but there are many facts that have also been revealed. With facts and ones interpretation, it is easier to analyze an event. People use evidence from different examples and scenarios to piece together information for a certain event, after that has been done, it is easier to make an interpretation. On September 11th, we have found out some pretty clear information and analyzed the event, which resulted in a lot of interpretations. Although I was not there, along with many other people, it is easy for one to infer slightly what happened. A person might not know the whole truth behind a situation or event, but different evidence collected can help one know a little more. History creates an amazing past and in order to build our society, our interpretations are an important aspect.
    Sammi Small

  22. Chelsea Rosenbaum

    I think that when you examine history, you have to use have to use the facts to make an interpretation of what really happened, because facts are subjective. The example i think fits this very well is the story of Rosa Park. Everyone has been taught in school how this heroic female was the first African American women to stand up to injustice. However, theses facts that we are taught are not actually completely true. She wasn't the first person to take a stand against the bussing situation. Weeks before, another African American women did the same thing. Countless people did the same thing, but received no credit. Another example is Paul Revere, who we all know as the heroic character who went on the Midnight ride in order to warn us that the British were coming. However, many people don’t realize that Paul did not work alone. In fact, Paul only one of 3 riders. Israel Bissell and Sybil Ludington traveled much further than him, yet received much less credit. So why was Paul remembered and the other 2 left in the dust? With the help of reveres friend Edger Alen Poe, who wrote a poem about Paul, the fictional poem was turned into fact. This is why I say that history is Pop Culture. We are taught the popular version of stories, which then become fact. We should not take anything we are taught in history as complete fact, but rather use it to understand the underlining message.


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