Thursday, August 03, 2006

Decline and Fall, Part 2: Flexible History


First, a message for Hugh Hewitt: thanks for the link, and I hope you and your listeners/readers will stick around for the rest of this.

Prerequisite reading:
Decline and Fall, Part 1

So – why the sudden trend of contemporary historians referring to the decline and fall of the Roman Civilization in terms that connote a peaceful transition from one social state to another? One reason has to do with fickle historians and the cycles of history.

Historians all too often write from their own contemporary perspective – not only in their current social/political context, but their desired social/political context. “History” actually depends upon the perspective of who is telling the story. This is perhaps Ward-Perkins most important point. So in as much as this theory holds true, to be fair, I must also claim bias in my further discussions here.

Imagine, for instance a history of the Germanic People written in 1932 by, say, a Czechoslovakian historian. Then imagine a history of the Germanic People written by a Czechoslovakian historian in 1947. Do you think there might have been a slight difference in how Germanic Peoples were depicted?

How about a Germanic history, especially in regards to the Roman World, which was written in 2000? First, examine the context of such a written work – a newly-formed secular European Union, with Germany supplying much of the economic muscle for it. It turns out that many historians of our contemporary period have been describing the Germanic People with much more flattering terminology in regards to their role of the “transition” to post-Roman Europe. You can’t let the Germans feel bad about themselves, nor can you let the Italians or the Vatican take too much credit, either. (Before you accuse me of being anti-Germanic, note that I am quite proud of my own German heritage).

In spite of a historian’s quest to be non-biased in their depictions, they will always be subject to some framework in which they view events of the past. Truth is not necessarily Fact.

Next: Decline and Fall, Part 3: Civilization vs. Culture


Mr.Atos said...

Memory holing was a popular practice prior to 1984, and stretching back to the ancient world. Subsequent Egyptian pharoahs, for instance, attempted to erradicate the existence of Akenaten (Amenhotep), for his unorthodox religious beliefs. His statues were topped and defaced and he was removed from sacred glyphs as if he had never existed... kinda like the record of failure, crime and debauchery of the Clinton Presidency.

El Jefe Maximo said...

Funny you mention the German/Czechos... and the different perspectives in the 30's vs. 1947.

Somewhere online there is this speech Joseph Goebbels gave to a collection of Czech literati in 1940...after France had fallen, while the Battle of Britain was on; but Russia not yet invaded, and long before US entry into the war.

Quite a speech: moderately amusing since we know the ending's a better one than Clubfoot Joe could possibly imagine; but chilling because at the time, nobody else could possibly imagine the better ending, either.