History is to be compared to fiction. Fiction -- generally chosen because the author has not the time or the resources to carry out proper research, or that the material is simply not available -- comes from the writer's imagination. It is a "species of literature which is concerned with the narration of imaginary events and the portraiture of imaginary characters." Though fiction has a very broad appeal, for some of us it is less appealing1 then, for example, history; simply, because, it does not serve us well in the pursuit of truth. A well written and researched history,2 on the other hand, is not only an exposition of what is believed to be true; but, in addition, it has an allure like that of gossip, as it goes about recounting the story of the collective self, the story of passionate man.
Though there have been many theories, from biblical to Marxian, I believe: rather than it being living, deterministic and inevitable; or rather than it being simply a story we take on religious faith -- that history is but a series of past events of which we have become conscious. The suggested resemblance is this: each event is a very thin and a very short fibre like that of the countless number which make up the great rope of humanity. The position of any particular fibre and its contribution to the whole is almost entirely a matter of chance. I doubt, to continue this metaphoric vein, that the rope of humanity has any particular purpose or that it has a predestined end.
As for history books: generally speaking, our childhood experiences in school have given us a rather poor image of them. The trouble with the typical school history book is that it is, like most surveys, too synoptic. To most people, when a mention is made of a history book, what comes to their mind, is, a dry thick tome filled with listed events in order of time, interspersed with columns of causes and consequences. History, however, can be, in the hands of a proper history writer, just as sensational, sexy, and spectacular as the best fictional sellers of the day.
For fuller exposition, including a listing of the lessons of history --
See blupete's Essay, "On History."
1 I hasten to add, that an experienced fiction writer, as Wigmore has taught us, through fictional character development, can assist us as we go about analysing those people with whom we are obliged to deal with both in our personal and professional life.
2 It may be, as Macaulay has suggested that a well written history is to be a "compound of poetry and philosophy"; but, it must in all events be true, or the closest one might get to it. A historian is to take into account the available evidence and make, like a trial judge in a court room, "a finding of facts." It is for this reason, I think, that the best histories have been written by those who are familiar with "the rules of evidence," viz., those who have had formal legal training.
[To Blupete's Essays]
[Thoughts & Quotes of blupete]
January, 1999 (2011)