6/5/19, 5(03 PM
Objective History is Impossible. And Thatʼs a Fact. – The Tattooed Professor
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The Tattooed Professor
History, Teaching, and Technology with a Custom Paint Job
Objective History is Impossible. And
That’s a Fact.
There are facts, and there are historical facts, E.H. Carr reminded us years ago.
Fact: lots of people crossed the Rubicon. Historical fact: Julius Caesar crossed the
Rubicon in 49 BCE. A fact is embedded within a historical context–or set of
contexts–that gives it historical significance and meaning. So when does a plain
old “fact” rise to the level of “historical fact?” The short answer: when a historian
decides it does. The fact and its context acquire historical meaning in retrospect,
as they are recovered, interpreted, and presented by the historian. Caesar crossing
the Rubicon is important if you care about Caesar and the developments with
Rome that came out of his decision to move south out of the alps. Facts happened.
Historical facts happened, but then someone asked of them, “so what?” That’s it,
and that’s all.
Carr’s distinction illuminates a critically important element in the epistemology
of the historian: significance is not inherent, but bestowed. This alone should give
serious pause when someone prattles on about historians needing to be
“objective.” The myth of objectivity presupposes inherent significance; that is,
certain facts are
historical. George Washington is important,and therefore
his doings are historical facts. It’s merely reporting the truth to observe this, we