Do Historians Write Non Fiction?

Discussion in 'The Book Club' started by gennithmedic, Aug 4, 2007.

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  1. I just had a browse through my book collection, and realised that the only books that I really liked, and reread, the the memoirs of blokes who'd Been There. And wrote first hand accounts. The books only suitable for lending and propping doors tended to be by Historians. Using their imaginations to "tell us what it was like."

    I came to the conclusion that the Historian is a writer of fiction, who uses the occasional source to lend veracity to his Story. And, as "all art is propaganda" it's probably biased too.

    Am I being too harsh on historians? Discuss
  2. Well seeing im one of those Historians, suppose id better say something, i wrote my book from the memoirs and interviews i had with the veterans, as it was about there Battalion, it had to be with their words, it contained many accounts which would never have seen the light of day in many cases.

    As is my next book, why have a dry book, now some write that way, not my bag so to speak. However i think your a wee bit harsh (or is that your reason) on Historians, do we throw away or burn books from all the way back to Roman times, as they dont have first hand accounts.

    One of the finest books on WW1 was written by someone who wasnt born then, who tells us what it was like, does that get binned, the work of Holmes, Keegan, Middlebrook???
  3. :roll: No, you aren't being harsh on historians, its just that your conclusion is flawed because it appears to be based on total ignorance of what a historian is, what they do and how they do it. Unless you amend it to read "some historians", of course; like any other group they range form very good to pretty shite. That aside, I suppose all the folk who write first hand accounts are as pure as the driven snow, with no hint of poor memory, narrow perspective, bigging themselves up or other ulterior personal motives? I can think of a couple of first hand accounts that turned out to be fiction when exposed to some criticl analysis.

    Oh, and as a matter of interest, how do you manage to put all these first hand accounts into context without referring to some historian's work or other? :p

  4. Actually, I strongly agree. History's a literary trope, rather than an account of 'what really happened in the past'.
  5. Ferk me, there's more broad brushes flying about in here today than a painters & decorators...

  6. The writing of history is obviously non-fiction by definition, but there has to be an element of conjecture. Historians make reasoned conclusions based on the evidence they have studied and many of them disagree with one another. Their writings are very often coloured by their politics too, it's up to the individual to come to his or her own conclusions. Short of time travel it's the only way of knowing about our past.

    All IMHO of course....
  7. Sorry, I was being lazy. But:

    History hasn't been a straightforward account of events since monks stopped writing chronicles. And even then, the choice of events listed reflected the theoretical, political and cosmological viewpoints of the monks themselves. More space would be devoted to comets and miraculous portents than to major political upheavals, for instance.

    As legal_eagle said, history is written in the present, for the present. It can only ever reflect the concerns of the present. 'History' is in a constant state of flux, reinterpreted according to the needs of the moment.
    This is true not just of Western academic history, but across cultures- Bedouin genealogies, eg.

    What is true of Western history is that it is a literary medium. As the historian Peter Gay said, 'Style is not the dress of thought but part of its essence.. style is the art of the historian's science." Gay uses Burckhardt and Gibbon as examples, but the same is true of Holmes in Dusty Warriors, say; a conscious decision to use gritty first-person narrative to create an illusion of immediacy and verisimilitude.

    As soon as pen is put to paper, or finger to keyboard, literature is created.
    Or rather, a narrative is constructed. And it is this reliance on narrative- a relatively recent stylistic device- that is the hallmark of modern, Western 'History'. Narrative necessitates not just the inclusion of facts, but the exclusion of fact too- otherwise, you just get an unreadable, context-less mess of events. This is what makes history literature...

    Historians such as R G Collingwood and Hayden White (who I've badly paraphrased above) both lucidly attacked the 'positivistic misconception' of history as a straightforward account of past events, and emphasised its fundamental 'literariness'. I would personally add that I'm sceptical than fiction can ever be solely fictional, but that's another story..
  8. Oh, and to address gennithmedic's point...

    A while ago I read 'Arnhem Spearhead', written by an ex-para. In the introduction, an academic military historian notes that the author got some of his dates wrong, and claimed to have worked alongside units that weren't ever in theatre.

    So who was right, the historian, or the guy who was actually there?

    Fcuk knows...
  9. David Irving likes to sprinkle some fiction into some of his historical pieces...allegedly.. ;)
  10. Historians have their uses, apparently. But they are only human. I reckon that an historian tells you more about the times and culture in which he writes than about the subject he is addressing. For example the Marxist historians. David IRVIN was renowned for finding new evidence. But he twisted it to fit his viewpoint.
    As for innaccuracies in first hand accounts, I'd say it lends creditability. Anyone who claims to have utter clarity of recall is probably a liar, or very mistaken.
    If am a being charitable I would say that historians could introduce people to the subject. But their opinions are entirely worthless, and there attempts to bring the subject alive are utter FICTION.

    So there.
  11. bet them breasts have more brains than you
  12. Can you explain the logic of that?

    You're being a bit harsh there. For starters, you're applying double standards big style. We all pass our own judgements on todays news stories whilst only knowing a tiny amount of the facts behind each one. If you believe that historians write nothing true at all, then you have to conclude the same of all other forms of non-fiction. Which means denying that there is any sort of objective truth, which in turn leads you into postmodernism and immorality.

    Sorry, I've waxed pretentious for long enough. What I'm basically trying to say is that historians are no different to knowledgable writers on any subject. You can (and should) take their ideas with a pinch of salt but you can't reject them outright.
  13. The historians (there were actually two). Because according to my copy of Arnhem Spearhead, the errors they (and you) refer to were actually picked up by then General John Frost. You might have heard of Frost, I believe he was at Arnhem too. All the historians do is point out exactly what Frost was referring to and then agree with him that "...these and other minor inaccuracies add to rather than detract from the authenticity of Arnhem Spearhead, since they show that the author has relied on his own impressions and experiences and has not adulterated his account by bringing it into line with other sources." Even then, the errors are easily verified as such with some basic cross-checking.

    That's what historians do, they take misremembered/sloppy/ inaccurate stuff like your "recollection" above and provide a properly analysed/verified/referenced version for them as can be arrsed to look.

    Shot yourself in the foot a bit there, didn't you? :p

  14. Cheers for that, good of you to confirm my assessment that what you actually know about historians can be written in the corner of a postage stamp. As a result you are talking unadulterated shite, unless this is a poor attempt at a wah, of course.

    However, to address your points specifically:

    - ref historians and the times/culture they come from, you seem unaware that historians have the vital importance of objectivity hammered into them during their training in order to offset it as far as humanly possible.

    - David Irving was not a Marxist historian, he was an apologist for National Socialism and his status as a historian was destroyed by....academic historians who analysed all his stuff and identified the falsehoods and twisting of the evidence to which you refer. Note the irony there, you proudly crowing about something that originates from them useless historians. :roll: Typical that you cite a discredited example too, altho it fits in quite well with your general cluelessness

    - ref inaccuracies in first hand account, who said anything about anyone having perfect recall, apart from you? As for them being mistaken, see my comment to Rumpelstiltskin above, and the glaring illogicality of your position pointed out by overpromoted.

    - you keep dribbling about historian's attempts to bring things to life being FICTION and such, so how about providing us with some specifics. Like which historians and/or books/subjects you are actually on about, and what exactly you mean by bringing to life. Unless you're making it up as you go along, of course.

    - if I was being charitable I'd say that you are in fact the type of throbber who doesn't let knowing the square root of fcuk all about something get in the way of pontificating about it.

    So there.