History is Not Boring discussion

who writes history?

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message 1: by Jeanne (new)

Jeanne (random_pink) | 3 comments I'm new to this site but wanted to put forward a question or rather a discussion. When the new 7 Wonders of the World were announced last years, some people where very upset about the Great Pyramids of Giza been removed from the list and given an honourary mention, especially Dr Hawass. Actually I would go further and say he was outraged by this. He went on a rant about who should be the ones to decide what is a wonder of the world yada yada yada... Eventually he ended up saying something about why people shouldn't be allowed to decide on such issues because 'The masses don't write history!'...I studied Egyptology for two years and I'm not a fan of the man and I was completely gob smacked by this statement.

What do you think?

message 2: by ☼Book her, (new)

☼Book her,   Danno☼  (pam_t) Interesting question on a number of levels, Jeanie. We always hear that history is written by the victor in any conflict. But these days I'm not so sure that is true. Take Japan for example. It's been said that they edit the history they teach their children, leaving out the war crimes committed in China, etc. But is this unusual?

I'm sure most nations probably edit to some extent, focusing on the positive in children's books. In the US, history is legislated. Thus you get little or no history about Spanish and French influence in colonizing North America. We're very anglo-centric.

And as for Dr. Hawass, I have a hard time taking his concerns seriously. At least as an academic. If he were a finance or travel minister it would be easier to understand his outrage. It's only a 'popular' list afterall, and not some serious academic conclusion.

message 3: by Coyle (new)

Coyle | 15 comments I don't know a whole lot about Hawass, but it's still a great question.
It's tempting to say that history is written by historians, but most of the really good histories were written by non-historians (Caesar and Thucydides were generals, Gibbon was an MP, etc).
I think history, at least the histories that hang around and don't fall into obscurity, is written by the people who can tell the best story without straying too far from the facts. (If they do, then it stops being history.)
But maybe that answer is too broad...

message 4: by Ainsley (new)

Ainsley | 9 comments This really is a fascinating question!

Perhaps it is the survivors who write history. They are often, but not always the victors. I'm taking a cue from from G.R.Elton (one of the 'daddys'of historiography) who had a fabulous quote in his book, 'The Practice of History': 'The future is dark, the present burdensome; only the past, dead and finished, bears contemplation. Those who look upon it have survived it: they are its product and its victors. No wonder, therefore, that men concern themselves with history.'

message 5: by Ali (new)

Ali Buschen (buschen) | 3 comments god writes it's own stories

message 6: by Anthony, Trivial Pursuit Master (new)

Anthony (bluekabuki) | 43 comments Mod
uh what?

message 7: by Michelle (new)

Michelle I would argue with you that history is not about fact telling. History is interpretation based on available evidence. New 'facts' can come to light that make old 'facts' false.

message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

i agree history is in flux and rewritten, revised as we go
i like the best story wins theory and i think over a long period of time that may be true
i don't know the gentleman of whom you speak but i was a little amazed about the new wonders as well
who established the old wonders?
it's sort of history in composite and for nonscholars like myself a nice sort of pocketsized historical compendium
i want it to be a list of good, accurate, real, true wonders and from a strictly sentimental standpoint i would have to agree
how can any list of wonders not have the pyramids?
maybe all the egyptology has ruined their mystery and so they were dumped
but huge rock structures of an ancient civilization in the middle of the desert with an accompanying sphinx?
come on, you can't get much more wonderous than that!
I think Ali was expressing the concept of manifest destiny or God as supreme being, the writer of everything.

message 9: by George (new)

George | 179 comments It's a bit like asking what is truth? Is truth unchanging or is it largely a matter of perception? I've been to the Pyramids. Liked 'em, a lot, in fact. Are they worthy of being listed as among the wonders of the world? sure, why not? but that's my opinion, not an objective fact not subject to debate. I've also been to Borobudur on Java. Liked that even more. Is that more or less worthy than the pyramids? Buy me a beer and let's discuss it.

We continue to look at our past through our understanding of our present. When was that ever different? We try to uncover as many objective facts as possible about our past, as humans, as life on Earth. Will we ever really understand it all? Of course not. Because learning never really stops. Not as individuals, not as the human race.

Histories are written by people with a point of view. Since none of us are gods, not even Julius Caesar, we are all subject to our limitations. Our view is limited. However, frequently, histories are written by people who want to control or shape the truth. If you've got the time and the inclination, read "Baudolino" by Umberto Eco. It's the perfect book for this discussion. Once you've finished it, tell me, are the events portrayed at the end of the book more or less "real" than the events at the beginning?

message 10: by Peter (new)

Peter | 3 comments Hawass is right to some degree. As to the wonders of the world or any aesthetic question, everyone has the right to an opinion, and each opinion is equally valid. But history, regrettably is not written by the masses. They serve in the armies that conquer the world. Theu work in the factories and read the books, but history is moved by the work of a few ambitious people. I wish it weren't the case. In order for the masses to take a greater role in writing and making history, true democracy must be practised with the appropriate level of education. Otherwise, the masses make history only, as we have seen in the past two American elections, by being manipulated into acting in certain ways. George Bush has done terrible things as prtesident, had no business being president, but millions of misguided people voted for him. In doing so, they may have caused irreparable harm to the planet. Have they written history or did the individuals who cleverly manipulated the masses make history?

message 11: by [deleted user] (new)

thoughtful post
without drawing conclusions about cheney et al
the idea of the individual moving the masses is interesting
i just posted on the dinner party thread
and all of my guests have the commonality of breaking the existing paradigm and creating a massive shift in a new direction
individuals who manipulated the masses?
or perhaps tapped into the yearning of the masses
i do think it takes a few catalyst individuals but there is a mass of like minded people waiting for direction to make change
and perhaps the individuals are a bit manipulated by their yearning masses as well

reps and neocons were yearning for the supremacy of conservative thought to rule the country
they made a mass effort in that direction
the opposing yearning wasn't strong enough

message 12: by +Chaz (new)

+Chaz Yes and no. I lived in Egypt for 14 months and love it for its historical perspective. But I don’t think we understand history for what it is. I think we live in our own paradigms manufactured overtime by what we want to believe and that which stands outside of our world. We also live and write from our collective paradigms and therefore distort everything that we see and read. Like filters, our understandings of events are not based on facts, but emotions. Interpreting Thomas Jefferson and his views on religion is clearly stated; he questioned the divinity of Christ. However, the religious right has always seen him as a founder of a Christian nation. Not facts, but emotions rule their world and consequently all the facts in the world will not change their minds.
Who writes history? We do, with all our dysfunctional perspectives. Which ever dysfunctional group wins, write their perspective of the event.

So I believe

message 13: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis I'm new, so this is in part a test to see if this is how you reply. I am an Australian with many temporary obsessions of significant duration.

One of them manifests as a longstanding interest in Thomas Jefferson, so my wife and I leapt on a coach to Monticello while in DC last year, but we were rather more interested in Jefferson the friend of scientists, so we saw a different view of Jefferson, and I doubt that our view will change because of any attitudes adopted by the US religious right.

You need also to ask where history is domiciled, and whether there can be a history in exile.

Then again, I could make a case for Ben Franklin as a founding father of Australia -- at least as an indirect founding father.

message 14: by +Chaz (new)

Yes, Jefferson was a man of science and continued his studies during his posting with John Adams and Benjamin Franklin as ambassadors to France during the Revolutionary War. He also had some fetishes to deal with, but over all a brilliant man that was also human.

Please explain your last observation on Benjamin Franklin; sounds interesting.

message 15: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis Just briefly on Jefferson first, if you mean the Sally Hemings thing, the genetic evidence is compelling but not proof.

Ben Franklin's role in founding Australia came about in an odd way. He never meant to, but he did. Because I am pressed for time, I will cut-and-paste from something I prepared earlier. I hope that is within the bounds of acceptability.

What happens if a store of gunpowder is struck by lightning? Something rather loud, generally. In the late 1700s, this became a matter of some concern, and it was decided that the Royal Navy's magazines ought to be protected by these new-fangled lightning conductors. After Benjamin Franklin flew (or didn't fly) his famous kite, he recommended the use of pointed-end lightning conductors. When the Royal Navy asked the Royal Society for their advice, they echoed Benjamin Franklin. Use pointed ends on your lightning rods, the Royal Society said.

We know now that charge accumulates far better at a point, so Franklin and the Royal Society were right, and this could have been proved by experiment. But then politics reared its ugly head. Franklin, you see, was more than a scientist, publisher, inventor and kite flier. He was a signatory to the American Declaration of Independence. A rebel, in fact. A person undesirable to the person of King George the Third. Persona non grata to the non compos mentis, you might say. And here were the gentlemen of the Royal Society siding almost treasonably with revolutionaries. Well, this was how Farmer George saw it.

But there were others who argued that a knobby end on the lightning rod was better. So when the Royal Navy suffered a lightning strike at Purfleet in 1775, right on the magazine, the Knob-Endians were delighted, and not just with the bang. Clear evidence, they cried that the pointed rod at Purfleet was incapable of doing the job. George had the pointed conductors removed from his palace, to be replaced by knobby ones, and required the Royal Society's members to reverse their stand. Their President, Sir John Pringle, answered icily that the Royal Society was unable to reverse the laws of nature.

These days, we can explain George's health problems (he almost certainly had porphyria) but even in his own time, people doubted his sanity. One wit reported having seen George conversing with a tree, and claimed the tree had got the better of the exchange, but ill or not, George was a man of influence. He had to be kept happy, and it seems that when the time came to replace Sir John Pringle as President, the Royal Society was happy to replace him with somebody favoured by the king. Joseph Banks, in fact.

Banks was in high favour with the king, and this was due in no small part to his tour to southern parts with Lieutenant James Cook, whom we know better as Captain Cook. But Banks had also been a Fellow of the Royal Society since 1766, he had served on its council several times, and he was quite wealthy. So the well-qualified Banks was elected and served as President of the Royal Society for forty two years. From this position, Banks could influence many things, including the establishment of a convict settlement at his beloved Botany Bay. And so we got Australia.

message 16: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis OK, let's just take the oats and barely in Scotland. At some later point, when somebody is looking at ergotism (NOT egotism!) and accusations of witchcraft, one of the hundred historians may recall that, or a careful gleaning of the shelves may bring it forward. Then if they see a similar pattern in Salem, a penny may drop.

As you may detect from my name, I am a (diluted) genetic Scot, and 22 years ago, we took our children to Culloden, to walk the field of battle, but I did caution them that the history they heard might, to a certain extent, be manufactured. Read Arthur Herman's 'The Scottish Enlightenment' to get a more balanced view on Union -- and my folk were teuchters, so I am going against family tradition here.

Look up <"history wars"> and you will see how we in Oz manufacture our history -- or how some lying scumbags try to manufacture it -- though I will not be drawn on which side has more of them. Our whole national persona is founded on the myth of Gallipoli (Turkey, 1915), and how our boys were sacrificed by stupid English officers. The elements were there: sacrifice and stupidity, but the causal links are tenuous to say the least.

History is written by anybody with the gall to say something with a straight face, and then the resolve to keep saying it until it stops being outrageous.

message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

good point but isn't scholarship by trained historians supposed to correct inaccuracies?
don't we get a more or less definitive story over time?

message 18: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis I'm not sure, Maureen -- the Scots push into devolution appears to be founded on a mythical history, but the myth is now the accepted version to many less thinking Scots. By popular acclaim, the victimisation legend has become definitive. Arthur Herman tells it differently, so I guess we can retrieve a closer simulacrum of truth at some stage. or we can hope to . . .

message 19: by [deleted user] (new)

no but i'm fascinated by some of the things you people know
i had never heard of ergotism or dancing mania
just looked them both up-now i know--hmmm

message 20: by +Chaz (new)

+Chaz Yes, but it is fascinating to follow. This is more fun than National Public Radio and the BBC combined. Sorry for that I just joined. But fiction is what we see a lot of here in the States and they call that history. Oh, and Gallipoli was as much of a tragedy to the commonwealth in WWI as that fool MacArthur’s disaster in the Philippines was to America in WWII.

message 21: by [deleted user] (new)

we have a story in my family of someone several generations back who lost a child and the shock caused her hair to go white overnight
stories like this
and how emotional shocks casued people to die always fascinated me
it's like your dancing mania donna, the very fiber of humans has changed
we are less delicate or something
also less outraged, less noble, less kind, or so it seems
were historical figures just as crass and insipid as they are now and we just don't know it because the stories make them seem better?

message 22: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis Charles, re MacArthur -- you may or may not know that he spent a goodly part of the war in Australia, where he did helpful things like sending messages to a shredded battalion of militia and two regular battalions, by then less than 1000 of them, holding up 6000+ Japanese on the Kokoda Track with poor supply lines.

It was a war of attrition, but Dugout Doug had never actually fought, it seems. He said that there were not enough of the Australians dying, so they weren't fighting hard enough.

Australia's top general was a fool of the same calibre or caliber (he was a bore, anyhow), but luckily the generals below were competent, as were the troops. Our generals lost the message, the Americans kept supplies coming.

message 23: by +Chaz (last edited Apr 01, 2008 12:11PM) (new)

+Chaz Good Moring Peter, MacArthur was nice and safe on the rock, and Northen Austraila but there is more to the story. For the good of the Country, MacArthur was “made” a hero by Roosevelt at a time when the Allies were losing badly across Southeast Asian. And besides he played one every day. MacArthur, who like the other generals and politicians from Hong Kong to Singapore woefully supported the belief that the Japanese couldn’t see straight and that Asians fighting Asians were like watching girls fight. They underestimated their own capabilities especially Hong Kong with only half a day of artillery, and the Philippines 200,000 troops MacArthur clamed would drive the Japanese off the beaches. Of the 200,000 troops, only 35,000 mostly Americans had ever fired a rifle, and only one division had any artillery pieces. New Guinea was another place MacArthur butchered American and Australian troops, but I am sure you understand what the three divisions were up against, and that damn mountain he forced the men to cross.

How is MacArthur remembered today down under and how was he thought of by 1944?

message 24: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis How is MacArthur remembered? I think members of the USMC would feel that they were among friends. I recently wrote a history of the Kokoda Track for "reluctant readers" (take that as teenage boys), and in asking around, I found that the venom of the old hands was directed at Generals Blamey (Oz) and MacArthur (US). I learned that MacArthur would send back to the US any photographer who snapped him without his hat and much more.

But by having that man here as the Military commander of all allied forces, we got access to US supplies and forces. If the generals who were not in MacArthur's brown-nose circle had not been here, the war would have ended sooner.

MacArthur wanted to get back to the Philippines. He wanted a useless airstrip at Kokoda defended so it could be used to defend another (planned) airstrip on the coast that would be a jump-off point towards the Philippines.

That is why a small Australian patrol was out in the jungle and met the Japanese as they were moving in, and started a withering campaign of delay and retreat that allowed reinforcements and artillery to be brought in.

MacArthur cared only about that stupid airstrip, and because he controlled the media in Australia, we heard about the "Kokoda trail" -- an American term. To the Australians who were there, it was the Owen Stanley Track for quite a while. You can still start a fight in certain places over track vs trail.

After the war, Americans were told that Doug went up there and rounded up a few Australian gold prospectors and the Aussies followed loyally and admiringly behind as Doug whupped the Japanese with one arm tied behind his back and his head in a biologically improbable and wholly unsanitary position. We got wind of this, and people were not amused.

In fact MacArthur never went near the fighting, because Australians did all of the early work with US Air Force support. Many US troops died in the later stages, because they were deployed stupidly in the furtherance of MacArthur's goal of getting back to the Philippines.

We are grateful to the smart Americans who circumvented Dugout Doug. From the evidence, nobody, US or Oz, loved him much.

One of the might-have-beens: what if Australian General Thomas Blamey had not been a lecherous, drunken, lying, thieving, bullying crypto-Fascist and poltroon with no combat experience? Would a real man have stood up to MacArthur?

We will never know.

message 25: by +Chaz (new)

+Chaz Good Afternoon Peter, I like how you write. I loaned out the book “The Ghost Mountain Boys,” to a widower whose husband was part of the American division that also crossed that hellish mountain. Of course it is telling the American point of view but doesn’t speak to well of our gentlemen. It should be noted, however, that MacArthur was more popular than FDR from the beginning of the war right up to his death. Our Military Academy at West Point has a statue of him with the words “Duty, Honor, Country.” Hay, one out of three, not that bad. The American people thought he was a god because during the battle on Bataan, MacArthur who only stepped on Bataan once for a few hours, was writing his own press reports and almost all of them had only his name in them. MacArthur held the Japs here, their and everywhere. The one’s I like the best are the “I am on the front lines ready for the attack.” Sounds like he used that one on you guys too. He was deep in the tunnels on the rock. I will have to get the book back to check my facts. Can you recomend a book from the Australian point of view?

message 26: by Peter (new)

Peter Macinnis Charles, re Kokoda books, Peter Brune is excellent -- I know "A Bastard of a Place" is on sale in the US, because a friend at the publishers told me the US distributors were nervous about the title.

Neil McDonald has written some good stuff -- his emphasis is on war correspondent Chester Wilmot, who died in one of the Comet crashes in 1954. Wilmot was mainly involved in opposing Blamey, because he believed he knew that Blamey had been on the take (and I believe him). Look for "Chester Wilmot Reports".

I used the diaries of the correspondents, many of them published, and savoured George Johnston's comment: "General MacArthur arrived up here today. Roads from the 7-Mile 'drome lined with American troops standing at attention and a top-cover of fighters overhead and his car escorted by an armoured car with guns manned and pointed everywhere! Wouldn't it!!!"

This was October 2, and the Japanese advance had been stopped and they were in retreat. He stayed briefly and cleared out, coming back on November 6.

Johnston also wrote (October 16, 1942) but could not publish until after:

"Up here everybody is incensed at new censorship bans including MacArthur's personal censorship of Stone's [articles] on his visit here which have been slashed to ribbons to convey the impression (a) that he went right up to the front line (which he certainly did NOT), and (b) that this was NOT his first visit to New Guinea . . . Censorship now is just plain Gestapo stuff."

After MacArthur came back again in November, Johnston wrote: " . . . Hanson Baldwin, writing in the _New York Times_, describes how the Americans saved the Australians from 'utter defeat'. Have written stories attacking Baldwin, who has never been in Australia, let alone New Guinea. No doubt he based his ignorant statement on the entirely misleading statement issued here by General MacArthur a few nights ago. The fact remains that no American ground soldier has fired a shot in this campaign so far, but there is a widespread tendency among many of the Americans to decry the Australian efforts and to perpetrate rumours that the A.I.F. is opposed only by a handful of Japs — some even say only '90', others put the figure at 250! One American was asked today if the hundreds of Australians coming in wounded had been in traffic accidents."

You see where MacArthur was doing damage? His lies were accepted by US forces, setting the two allies at each other's throats. That ain't the military way . . .

Enough. I will get hot under the collar soon.

But you see how effectively MacArthur "wrote the history"? He failed, didn't he?

message 27: by +Chaz (new)

+Chaz Yes indeed. Thank you for the led on the books. I'll look them up and buy one or two.

Good night my friend, it has been a most enjoyable discussion.

I don’t know if you wish to follow this line of thought, or perhaps some other such as the use of the Commonwealth Armies as British canon fodder in the two wars and in particular North Africa?

Again thank you
C Gilbert
Marine/Army (ret)

message 28: by [deleted user] (new)

well that sort of answers the question
he who manipulates and has the power to do so writes the history
i vaguely knew there was some questions concerning McArthur however, the history i was taught painted him primarily in a positive light

so...if you partake in the scholarship, the truth gets told but it takes time to correct erroneous "propaganda"

thank you for the history lesson gentlemen

message 29: by +Chaz (last edited Apr 02, 2008 04:52PM) (new)

+Chaz Thanks Maureen, I learned some thing too. But please remember, to write something close to the truth can leave you on the outside looking in.

message 30: by [deleted user] (new)

oh yes
i understand that
maybe alone in the present but perhaps with some wonderful company from other time periods

alone with your contemporaries but in unison with mankind?

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