What Makes for a Good or Bad Historian?

27 08 2012

Dr Suzannah Lipscomb is a historian and broadcaster. She recently asked her legions of Twitter followers “What Makes for a Good or Bad Historian?” Their responses can be found here.

 

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27 08 2012
billarends

While I do not claim to be an Historian I do have an undergrad degree in history. The one thing that bothered me while studying history however was the dis concern for the truth. While it is not possible to be completely objective Empathy and emotional attachment to history was the biggest downfall of historical discourse and this was most evident in American writers.

A good historian’s first concern should be with the unbiased truth rather than compassion. The expression of compassion should come after the discernment of truth.

Leopold Von Ranke said “You have reckoned that history ought to judge the past and to instruct the contemporary world as to the future. The present attempt does not yield to that high office. It will merely tell how it really was.”

While Ranke’s attempt to make history into a science was flawed, his striving for the truth and the attempt to merely tell how it really was is what I found admirable.

If you read many of the responses to Dr Suzannah Lipscomb’s question you see that same emotional empathy and compassion that clouds our attempt at getting at the truth.

While I know this might sound naive, What makes a Good Historian? One that believes in the pursuit of the truth above all.

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