What are historical facts?

From Wikinormous

Was the name of an essay presented by the American historian Carl L. Becker (1873–1945) in 1926. It was not published until the 1950s.

In the essay Becker discussed the problem that we often tend to treat so called historical facts as real objects as e.g. a brick. By doing this, history becomes tangible, but these "facts" are according to Becker made up by thousands of other facts. By exemplifying his thoughts by the well known "historical fact" that Caesar crossed the Rubicon, he questioned the very idea of this "fact".

The article was published in Western Political Quarterly, VIII (1955), 327- 340 and reprinted in Phil L. Snyder, ed., Detachment and the Writing of History: Essays and Letters of Carl L Becker (Ithaca, N.Y., 1958, 1967) but I have not found more than an excerpt of the article on the net:

science and values

”This philosophy [technical philosophy] has two aspects, one theoretical and the other ethical. On the theoretical side, it analyses away the concept ”truth”, for which it substitutes ”utility”. It used to be thought that, if you believed Caesar crossed the Rubicon, you believed truly, because Caesar did cross the Rubicon. Not so, say the philosophers we are considering: to say that your belief is ”true” is another way of saying that you will find it more profitable than the opposite belief. I might object that there have been cases of historical beliefs which, after being generally accepted for a long time, have in the end been admitted to be mistaken. In the case of such beliefs, every examinee would find the accepted falsehood of his time more profitable than the as yet unacknowledged truth. But this kind of objection is swept aside by the contention that a belief may be ”true” at one time and ”false” at another. In 1920 it was ”true” that Trotsky had a great part in the Russian Revolution; in 1930 it was ”false”. The result of this view have been admirably worked out in George Orwell's ”1984”. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society, 1952 pg. 99

have your references right, or else ...

Digging up odd documents, diaries, military records and letters seems like the correct way to unravel what may or may not have happened in history. But when does it become fact or truth? Is academic consensus the right notion to authoritarian historical facts? If we go by the truism History is written by the winners, we certainly must be cautious no matter what. So called losers are equally not automatically right. New ideas, theorems or documents presented are always novelties (minority) in the beginning, no matter if they later become mainstream facts, theories or laws. Even then are they up for revision, and my take is that no theory or law has ever withstood its own revisions.

David Irving has indeed met this authoritarian wall whether he's right or not. Here he talks of Original Documents vs. Printed References, (much focus on Churchill and Hitler) and how very few scholarly colleagues of his have read or even heard of such material. It is easy to ridicule, and perhaps that goes with the territory but when certain opinions become criminalized it has gone too far.

on Googlevideo

more Irving on Google Truth in History and Banged Up an extract from the memoirs of the author.

Also see, Ernst Zündel, after seven years imprisonment, recently released march 1 2010. His ever downed site zundelsite.org


The research methods, economic means, trends, motives and interpretations of history, historiography

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