GRE Issue Essay 183
“When we concern ourselves with the study of history, we become storytellers. Because we can never know the past directly but must construct it by interpreting evidence, exploring history is more of a creative enterprise than it is an objective pursuit. All historians are storytellers.”
History is an account of events as they occurred in the past. Since our ancestors are not present to tell us these events, we depend upon historians to construct the same for us. The writer of the given statement believes that historians are no more than storytellers since they treat the construction of history as a creative enterprise rather than an objective pursuit. However, I differ with the writer on this point and believe that history is basically based on objective facts. All the facts are diligently brought together to construct the events of the past with little use of creative enterprise.
Knowing the past directly is impossible. However, our historians present a picture of the past as if they have recorded these events. This makes many people believe that historians make the use of imagination in order to give shape to the few facts in hand. However, a historian’s work is not that easy. History, as it is presented to us, is not just the framework of the mind of a historian loosely based on a few objective realities. There are many studies and discussions amongst historians that go into constructing history. Therefore, history is the putting together of all facts to form a continuous record of events.
History is made when historians get a lead from excavating new sights, studying the remains, interpreting manuscripts, fossils and collecting similar data. Along with these, historians rely on radiocarbon dating in order to calculate the age of the old objects found. It is after a detailed study of all these that historians come to a particular conclusion. For example, when different types of tools made of stone were found, it could be understood that early man used these to cut trees and kill animals. Similarly, the excavation of ancient civilizations has helped the historians in establishing history. From these excavations it could be understood that man learnt the art of cultivation, pottery, trade and other such things. Similarly, the complete history of British Empire is not just a construction of the imagination of historians with a couple of pieces of evidence, but it is after collecting as much evidence as possible from the British empire as well as its colonies that its history has taken shape. There has been evidence in form of written account of British lords as well as others, newspaper articles, letters and many such unavoidable proofs that help in establishing the facts. Therefore, the role of creative enterprise is very limited in such cases.
I however, do not refute the fact that there is no place of creative pursuit in history. When it comes to bringing continuity between two facts, the historians have to construct the most probable story. That is why sometimes there are contrasting views between the interpretations of different historians. However, this creative pursuit does not take away the truth provided by evidence. That is to say, these imaginative bits and parts of the story are only gap fillers and history remains dominated by objective pursuit of these historians. If history were more of a creative enterprise than objective pursuit, there would be no difference between historical accounts and folklores or legends.
To sum up, history cannot be regarded as a story told by a storyteller since there goes in a lot of effort on the part of historians in order to come to a conclusion. History is backed with enough evidence for which it cannot be dismissed as a creation of the mind of a historian, but must be regarded as unchangeable account of facts and events.