RePost- “The Task of the Historian”
In my recent entry on Black Confederate Soldiers I referenced a certain gem I found in the White Oak Civil War Museum. I have reproduced it here.
I have been unable to ascertain its origin, unfortunately, but it is nonetheless a powerful and useful little piece worth an occasional reading and reflection, not only for historians but for all thinkers whose dogmatism or skepticism draws justification from a myth they call ‘history.’ Those who read Art of Manliness might recognize it as a ‘Manvotional;’ more on those later.
I have copied the text as I found it, including the apparent original publisher and database.
“The Task of the Historian”
“The first requisite for all sound historical writing is the careful establishment of facts. This object is attainable only if the historian has full knowledge of the sources of information in regard to the period to be described. Furthermore, he must possess the gift of critically estimating the value of his sources according to the rules of historical evidence. But something more than mere chronicling of facts is expected of the historian. We look to him for interpretation of movements and of events.
To this task the historian must bring an insight into the motives which actuate men in various situations. He needs a power of discernment in state affairs and a due appreciation of the parts which economic, social, and [cultural] interests play in human affairs. Moreover, the historian should keep himself free from considerations of self-interest, that his interpretations may be objective, reasonable, and as free from bias as is humanly possible.
In style, he should be candid and unimpassioned, avoiding both panegyric and satire. To truth alone must he offer sacrifice. He must be fearless, incorruptible, untrammeled, conceding nothing either to hatred or to friendship, a citizen of no city, recognizing no ruler, and setting forth the result of his resources in a diction which the many may understand and the more educated [may] approve. Only by such a method can the integrity of a writer be established and his reputation as a historian be justified.”
The Lincoln Library of Essential Information
The Frontier Press Company, Buffalo, New York, 1924