Although history may be the past, the reflections of that past and the various mediums that inform and shape history must be examined for their value and authenticity to be asserted. Unfortunately, as Davidson and Lytle (4) note, history is not simply a reflection of what happened in the past. Rather it is a reconstruction of past events from raw materials that need to be reassembled and rebuilt several times. Importantly noted, the documents and sources often present historians with several problems as they contain pitfalls that can blind or trap the historian in their quest for historicalical accuracy. Consistently, and using After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection by Davidson and Lytle, we explore some of the problems present in the reconstruction of historical events. Using the book, we also attempt to understand if it is possible to know the truth about a historical event and to what extent the motives and experience of people who participate in these events can be reconstructed. Further, we explore how these issues are reflected in the writings of Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars.
Problems with the Reconstruction of Historical Events
The everyday view of history expects historians to succeed in bringing back the facts from the past without distorting them or forcing a new perspective. In practice, historians are carriers of the past, and like all good messengers, they are expected to simply deliver the information without adding anything to it. Unfortunately, the view is profoundly misleading. The nuance of history is the combination of the recollections and remembrances of the participants.it is the documentation and recording of countless testimonies and accounts of past events, which are not always easy or simple to examine and ascertain their accuracy. Thus, one of the biggest problems encountered by historians is the absolute scarcity of materials about past events. For example, according to Davidson and Lytle (xviii), the story of Silas Dean would have secured a place in the history texts. However, there is no sufficient information about his life or career. In fact, information about his death was only available from the obituaries. A second problem encountered by historians is discrepancies in information. Obviously, historians cannot rely on rumors and must research deeply to get factual information to write a complete story. Nonetheless, as with Silas Dean Story where there were several contradicting details, it becomes hard to understand get the accurate information. Another problem that historians encounter is the infinite number of historical facts (201). Definitely, it is impossible for historians to include everything, which means they must select, analyze, and write only which is important. The reason for statements and expressions also have to be taken into consideration when analyzing historical evidence, which is another problem faced by historians. As Davidson and Lytle (193) highlighted, when compiling history, it is important to give a second look at the narrative. For instance, in the slave narrative correction, Davidson and Lytle (193) note, the perspectives and the narrations of both the white sources and the African American should be treated with extreme skepticism. It is possible that all clues pieced together are hopelessly biased, leading the writing of history down the wrong path.
Is it ever possible to know the “truth” about a historical event?
History is a recording of past events made up of multiple views and facts that are pieced together to give the best view possible. However, although historians strive to get accurate and factual information, the ultimate question remains, is it possible to know the actual truth about a historical event? According to Kerns (77), for the near future, the possibility of knowing the truth about historical events will remain closed because it is hard to go back to the past. Pictures, words, and sound can give a glimpse into the historical events, but they can never give the exact truth. In fact, what is today considered truth may be incorrect in the future. Nonetheless, when sources and records correlate, then most historical events are viewed as correct.
The Extent to which we can reliably reconstruct history
The passage of centuries separates the remote past, and it is only possible to know the past with the presence of sufficient evidence. Unfortunately, the evidence may be unlimited as is the case with contemporary history (Vick 46). Consequently, as highlighted above, historians are likely to encounter historical problems such as limited evidence. Thus, historians can only reliably reconstruct the motives and experience of people participating in historical events to the extent that there is reliable evidence.
How are the issues reflected in writings of sacks?
The writing of Oliver Sacks, An Anthropologist on Mars is a 1995 book exploring the medical case histories of seven individuals with neurological disorders. A deeper analysis of Sacks work reveals the writer’s infusion with quality, buoyancy, and diligence. Oliver Sacks enthusiastically asks difficult questions and has a fascinating way of presenting the lives of the seven individuals. Ultimately, his writing reflects the style of writing historical events as he connects his curiosity with observation and emotion to bring out factual and accurate information.
Ideally, for historians, it is necessary to find facts and the fact behind the facts. The researcher must be able to dig factual and accurate information, criticize and analyze to reconstruct and rebuild history. They must be able to overcome the problems associated with reconstructing historical events. Consequently, when it comes to determining the truth of the past events, the task can be challenging. Additionally, the extent to which we can reliably reconstruct history can only be determined by the availability of reliable evidence.
Davidson, James W, and Mark H. Lytle. After the Fact: The Art of Historical Detection. McGraw-Hill, 2010.
Kerns, D.C. Passing through the Fire: Conscious Imagination and Thinking. Balboa Press, 2011.
Vick, Edward W. H. History and Christian Faith: An Introduction. Evening Publications, 2003.
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