The Credibility of History

How can one say for sure that everything they’ve learned in their history class is actually true?

There is no straightforward answer to that question, but there are a few parameters that help us determine the authenticity of what we read or listen to. True history (and timeless literature) is something that isn’t influenced by following factors.

  • Socio-Political: Influence of the then societal and political conditions
  • Literary-Historical: Influence of other literary works or baseless historical facts that tend to obscure reality
  • Autobiographical: Influence of the writer’s own views

Whenever someone reads a historical work, they need to question themselves if the given work is influenced by any of the previously mentioned factors (for instance, Glimpses of World History tends to take a socialist stand — after all, it is an epistolary work and cannot be taken as an authentic source) Pieces written in blogs or articles found online are usually influenced by the writer’s own views and that’s the inherent defect of all the blogs in general — lack of authenticity (This can be taken as the classical example of simulacra generating reality) We cannot know for sure if what’s written is indeed true because even the ‘facts’ we usually know are the ones we’ve read elsewhere. All we can do is trust the research done by historians and draw additional (logical) conclusions based on the poetry, paintings, and relics of a particular time.

So whenever you’re in an argument with a person who makes a baseless statement, the best thing to do, when you don’t have an extremely convincing source either, is to stop the argument altogether before it enters the Nietzschean space; because many historical facts take erratic swings on the pivot of trust. The sensible thing to do is to select some widely accepted and honest ‘referees’ beforehand or drop the discussion altogether.

It is understood that there are many conspiracy theories floating around online. Abraham Lincoln’s Internet Wisdom (“The thing about quotes on the internet is that you cannot confirm their validity”) has a funny way of putting this. While some of them can be debunked by a logical analysis, proper observation and reliable evidence, the remaining, based on how adamant your opponent is, can seldom be proved. Sometimes, you should just accept the naivete of others.

Finally, to quote a reputed journalist on the whole issue:

Indifference to objective truth is encouraged by the sealing off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening. There can often be doubt about the most enormous events. The calamities that are constantly being reported — battles, massacres, famines, revolutions — tend to inspire in the average person a feeling of unreality. One has no way of verifying the facts, one is not even fully certain that they have happened, and one is always presented with totally different interpretations from different sources. Probably the truth is undiscoverable but the facts will be so dishonestly set forth in that the ordinary reader can be forgiven either for swallowing lies or for failing to form an opinion

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