Historians Quotes

Quotes tagged as "historians" (showing 1-30 of 57)
Leo Tolstoy
“Historians are like deaf people who go on answering questions that no one has asked them.”
Leo Tolstoy

Terry Pratchett
“Oh, my dear Vimes, history changes all the time. It is constantly being re-examined and re-evaluated, otherwise how would we be able to keep historians occupied? We can't possibly allow people with their sort of minds to walk around with time on their hands.”
Terry Pratchett, Jingo

Mark Twain
“Herodotus says, "Very few things happen at the right time, and the rest do not happen at all: the conscientious historian will correct these defects.”
Mark Twain

Hannah Arendt
“Caution in handling generally accepted opinions that claim to explain whole trends of history is especially important for the historian of modern times, because the last century has produced an abundance of ideologies that pretend to be keys to history but are actually nothing but desperate efforts to escape responsibility.”
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Oscar Wilde
“To give an accurate description of what has never occurred is not merely the proper occupation of the historian, but the inalienable privilege of any man of parts and culture.”
Oscar Wilde

B.R. Ambedkar
“A historian ought to be exact, sincere and impartial;
free from passion, unbiased by interest, fear, resentment or affection;
and faithful to the truth, which is the mother of history the preserver of great actions, the enemy of oblivion, the witness of the past, the director of the future.”
B.R. Ambedkar, Writings And Speeches: A Ready Reference Manual

History, too, has a penchant for giving birth to itself over and over again, and
“History, too, has a penchant for giving birth
to itself over and over again, and those whom it
appoints agents of change and progress
do not always accept their destinies willingly.”
Aberjhani, Splendid Literarium: A Treasury of Stories, Aphorisms, Poems, and Essays

Carl Lotus Becker
“All historical writing, even the most honest, is unconsciously subjective, since every age is bound, in spite of itself, to make the dead perform whatever tricks it finds necessary for its own peace of mind.”
Carl Lotus Becker, The Heavenly City of the Eighteenth Century Philosophers

Tony Judt
“The historian’s task is not to disrupt for the sake of it, but it is to tell what is almost always an uncomfortable story and explain why the discomfort is part of the truth we need to live well and live properly. A well organized society is one in which we know the truth about ourselves collectively, not one in which we tell pleasant lies about ourselves.”
Tony Judt

Christopher Hitchens
“Since the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, historians have become both more accurate and more honest—fractionally more brave, one might say—about that 'other' cleansing of the regions and peoples that were ground to atoms between the upper and nether millstones of Hitlerism and Stalinism. One of the most objective chroniclers is Professor Timothy Snyder of Yale University. In his view, it is still 'Operation Reinhardt,' or the planned destruction of Polish Jewry, that is to be considered as the centerpiece of what we commonly call the Holocaust, in which of the estimated 5.7 million Jewish dead, 'roughly three million were prewar Polish citizens.' We should not at all allow ourselves to forget the millions of non-Jewish citizens of Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, and other Slav territories who were also massacred. But for me the salient fact remains that anti-Semitism was the regnant, essential, organizing principle of all the other National Socialist race theories. It is thus not to be thought of as just one prejudice among many.”
Christopher Hitchens, Hitch 22: A Memoir

Herbert Butterfield
“The study of the past with one eye upon the present is the source of all sins and sophistries in history. It is the essence of what we mean by the word "unhistorical".”
Herbert Butterfield, The Whig Interpretation of History

Alan Sokal
“Thus, by science I mean, first of all, a worldview giving primacy to reason and observation and a methodology aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of the natural and social world. This methodology is characterized, above all else, by the critical spirit: namely, the commitment to the incessant testing of assertions through observations and/or experiments — the more stringent the tests, the better — and to revising or discarding those theories that fail the test. One corollary of the critical spirit is fallibilism: namely, the understanding that all our empirical knowledge is tentative, incomplete and open to revision in the light of new evidence or cogent new arguments (though, of course, the most well-established aspects of scientific knowledge are unlikely to be discarded entirely).

. . . I stress that my use of the term 'science' is not limited to the natural sciences, but includes investigations aimed at acquiring accurate knowledge of factual matters relating to any aspect of the world by using rational empirical methods analogous to those employed in the natural sciences. (Please note the limitation to questions of fact. I intentionally exclude from my purview questions of ethics, aesthetics, ultimate purpose, and so forth.) Thus, 'science' (as I use the term) is routinely practiced not only by physicists, chemists and biologists, but also by historians, detectives, plumbers and indeed all human beings in (some aspects of) our daily lives. (Of course, the fact that we all practice science from time to time does not mean that we all practice it equally well, or that we practice it equally well in all areas of our lives.)”
Alan Sokal

Edward Hallett Carr
“The historian without his facts is rootless and futile; the facts without their historian are dead and meaningless.”
Edward Hallett Carr

Lauro Martines
“It follows that the one thing we should not do to the men and women of past time, and particularly if they ghost through to us as larger than life, is to take them out of their historical contexts. To do so is to run the risk of turning them into monsters, whom we can denounce for our (frequently political) motives—an insidious game, because we are condemning in their make-up that which is likely to belong to a whole social world, the world that helped to fashion them and that is deviously reflected or distorted in them. Censure of this sort is the work of petty moralists and propagandists, not historians (p. 5).”
Lauro Martines, Fire in the City: Savonarola and the Struggle for Renaissance Florence

“A historian tries to understand what happened, why it happened, what was the context, who did what, and what assumptions led them to act as they did. A historian customarily displays a certain diffidence about trying to influence events, knowing that unanticipated developments often lead to unintended consequences.”
Diane Ravitch, The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education

Jacques Yonnet
“An historian is a kind detective in search of the fact — remote or otherwise - that brings to a set of events apparently unconnected with each other, the link that unites them, their justification, their logic.

You cannot imagine what great delights this profession affords. It’s as if, in every incunablum, consumed by worms and steeped in boredom, in every inarticulate scrawl, in every collection of forgotten chronicles, there presides a mischievous sprite, winking at you, who at the appropriate time confers on you your reward in the form of renewed wonder.”
Jacques Yonnet, Paris Noir: The Secret History of a City

Cynthia Hand
“Chicks dig historians.”
Cynthia Hand, Unearthly

“My tutors all said that the greatest of the wizards died many years ago and that their like would never be again seen in our lands.”
“Historians can be a pessimistic lot. I have never met one that did not believe that the world’s best years had already passed.”
Jenelle Leanne Schmidt, Minstrel's Call

Terry Pratchett
“where actual evidence had been a bit sparse he had, in the best traditions of the keen ethnic historian, inferred from revealed self-evident wisdom*
*Made it up
and extrapolated from associated sources** **had read a lot of stuff that other people had made up, too.”
Terry Pratchett

Alexander McCall Smith
“It was always the best way of finding out information; just go and ask a woman who keeps her eyes and ears open and who likes to talk. It always worked. It was no use asking men; they simply were not interested enough in other people and the ordinary doings of people. That is why the real historians of Africa had always been the grandmothers, who remembered the lineage and the stories that went with it.”
Alexander McCall Smith, The Kalahari Typing School for Men

J.M. Robison
“I am not a writer. I am a historian for another world.”
J.M. Robison, The War Queen

Daniel Tammet
“[Tolstoy] denounced [many historians'] lamentable tendency to simplify. The experts stumble onto a battlefield, into a parliament or public square, and demand, "Where is he? Where is he?" "Where is who?" "The hero, of course! The leader, the creator, the great man!" And having found him, they promptly ignore all his peers and troops and advisors. They close their eyes and abstract their Napoleon from the mud and the smoke and the masses on either side, and marvel at how such a figure could possibly have prevailed in so many battles and commanded the destiny of an entire continent. "There was an eye to see in this man," wrote Thomas Carlyle about Napoleon in 1840, "a soul to dare and do. He rose naturally to be the King. All men saw that he was such."
But Tolstoy saw differently. "Kings are the slaves of history," he declared. "The unconscious swarmlike life of mankind uses every moment of a king's life as an instrument for its purposes." Kings and commanders and presidents did not interest Tolstoy. History, his history, looks elsewhere: it is the study of infinitely incremental, imperceptible change from one state of being (peace) to another (war).
The experts claimed that the decisions of exceptional men could explain all of history's great events. For the novelist, this belief was evidence of their failure to grasp the reality of an incremental change brought about by the multitude's infinitely small actions.”
Daniel Tammet, Thinking In Numbers: On Life, Love, Meaning, and Math

Hannah Arendt
“The most striking difference between the ancient and modern sophists is that the ancients were satisfied with a passing victory of the argument at the expense of truth, whereas the moderns want a more lasting victory at the expense of reality. In other words, one destroyed the dignity of human thought whereas the others destroy the dignity of human action. The old manipulators of logic were the concern of the philosopher, whereas the modern manipulators of facts stand in the way of the historian. For history itself is destroyed, and its comprehensibility—based upon the fact that it is enacted by men and therefore can be understood by men—is in danger, whenever facts are no longer held to be part and parcel of the past and present world, and are misused to prove this or that opinion.”
Hannah Arendt, The Origins of Totalitarianism

Simon Winder
“Indeed, a parallel history of Europe could be written which viewed family life and regular work as the essential Continental motor of civilization. Then war and revolution would need to be seen by historians as startling, sick departures from that norm of a kind that require serious explanation, rather than viewing periods of gentle introversy as mere tiresome interludes before the next thrill-packed bloodbath.”
Simon Winder, Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History

Niall Ferguson
“No one can know the future, least of all, a historian, whose business is the past.”
Niall Ferguson, The War of the World: Twentieth-Century Conflict and the Descent of the West

Robin Caldwell
“History is so comprehensive and detailed. I couldn't be a history student. I thought there was a time when I couldn't be a history maker, because of my limited understanding of what that meant. Today, thinking about the passing of Julian Bond and a wonderful conversation with a woman who has influenced so much, I think we all are history makers. All of our names will not be as known as Mr. Bond's or in books, but our names will be on someone's tongue and our memories will be in someone's heart, and we will all be a part of someone's personal story. We have a unique opportunity at this very second to change how we affect someone's life as living history and historians. Flaws and all. Yep.”
Robin Caldwell

Eraldo Banovac
“It is not acceptable that election winners interpret history. History should be left to historians who have a difficult task. They should try to avoid a one-sided or personal interpretation of history. Furthermore, some collective factors (such as national enthusiasm) may influence objectivity that is crucial for the interpretation of historical events.”
Eraldo Banovac

Yuval Noah Harari
“Though historians occasionally try their hand at prophecy (without notable success), the study of history aims above all to make us aware of possibilities we don’t normally consider. Historians study the past not in order to repeat it, but in order to be liberated from it.”
Yuval Noah Harari, Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow

Rutger Bregman
“Even so, I think historians have more to offer than perspective on our present woes. The foreign country we call the past also lets us look beyond the horizons of what is, to see what could be.”
Rutger Bregman, Utopia for Realists: How We Can Build the Ideal World

Steven Magee
“Historians will remember the first year of Microsoft Windows 10 for its willful vandalism of many computers through the release of a flawed operating system (OS) and mandatory flaky automatic updates.”
Steven Magee

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