The Killing of History
Historical Research Techniques
The world’s view of history is rapidly changing. Keith Windschuttle tells how
history, once known as a field in which one strove for objectivity and unbiased accuracy,
has now become a branch of “cultural study”. As opposed to traditional history, the
cultural study of history has roots in leftist politics. It is susceptible to the criticisms and
theories which can mold, shape, or downright twist anything into a biased mold in order
to communicate the viewpoint of the one writing it. Not only is history now susceptible to
biases, but those who have redefined it as a discipline have declared it impossible to find
certain, factual truth. Without facts, the stories of history become nothing but novels set
in the past.
A recently popularized variety of history as a cultural study is “new historicism”.
“Historicism” is an older idea, dating to the 1800’s, which says that the past should only
be viewed in light of its own values and context, rather than those of the persons viewing
it. “New historicism”, its descendant of the late 20
says that there is no past
world, only texts. In other words, all that exists of the past is limited to texts about the
world of the past. These texts are composed in a certain language which is determined by
the people who use it to communicate thoughts and ideas. Therefore in order to
understand history and properly expound upon it, a historian much understand the texts,
which are our only link to the past, in terms of the society which created them. Historians
much then study prevailing economics, philosophies, politics, and other cultural factors in
order to be competent in their own discipline. Derrida and Foucault’s poststructuralism
goes even further as to say that all that exists in both the past and present are texts, since
even we, in the present, are confined to language to understand the world around us.
However, beyond this commonality, Derrida and Foucault differ in ideas. Derrida’s
preferred method of historical interpretation is to deconstruct texts and find the number of
meanings in them, some of which the writer did not necessarily intend to communicate.
This is quite opposed to traditional literary criticism’s attempt to find the one true
meaning of a text. Foucault said that “knowledge” was determined by whoever was in
power, and therefore that a historian should chip away at this oppression and expose all
“truth”, not just that which is accepted by those in power. This idea eliminates
absoluteness of truth, if that which is considered false is only false because it is not
acceptable to those in power. This subjective viewing of truth falls right in line with
much of postmodern theory.
These theories are by no means all of those available for application by those