Friday, June 13, 2008

What Is History?

I was recently given an assignment to read a certain article from the New Yorker for my Introduction to Music Research class. Just the Facts, Ma'am appeared in the magazine this year around March or April. It addresses the broad question, What is History? Though Jill Lepore doesn't really answer that question, she does pull ironically from a variety of sources in history to form what is sometimes called a "think piece."

In this article she mentions a quotation by William Godwin that really got me thinking:

He that knows only on what day the Bastille was taken and on what spot Louis XVI perished, knows nothing.
I began thinking about facts. The nitty-gritty minutia of events and their dates. History, indeed even unrecorded, must be full of millions of them. Are these things history? Or is history something more than that? Maybe it's out of these details that a deeper meaning rises. This deeper meaning, purpose, higher-level metaphor and analogy is the story of history. It's more than facts and seeks to explain something of the human condition.

-Taylor Baldwin


The Bon Vivant said...
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The Bon Vivant said...

a great epistemological question, do we often obsure the forest with trees? and what then if we have planted the trees ourselves anyway? I like what the article says: "The novelist is the better historian—and especially better than the empirical historian—because he admits that he is partial, prejudiced, and ignorant"