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Historians Can't Speculate - Essay Example

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This paper "Historians Can't Speculate" focuses on the fact that this is a naïve interpretation of the process of historical research and writing given by a novelist rather than a historian. Morrison’s comment also suggests that greater license can and should be given to the novelist.  …
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Historians Cant Speculate
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Historians Can't Speculate

Download file to see previous pages... Yet when the historical records of an event such as American slavery tend to be biased towards the view of it as just another type of economic enterprise, there is clear value in what might be termed memory or the an attempt to explore what actually occurred using the human imagination as a spur rather than 'actual' historical records. Beloved is a prime example of such an attempt.
Historians are concerned with events which can be assigned to specific time-space locations, events which are (or were) in principle observable or perceivable, whereas imaginary writers . . . are concerned with both these kinds of events and imagined, hypothetical, or invented ones.
It is interesting to note that White's definition provides for an area of coincidence between the work of the historian and the work of the imaginary writer (such as Morrison, who is a novelist) by suggesting that novelists deal with historical events as well as historians, although they may also include the fictional elements that the historian supposedly does not.
As White suggests, it was after the Enlightenment and the French Revolution that history and literature started to part company. By the early 1800's "it became conventional, at least among historians, to identify truth with fact and to regard fiction as the opposite of the truth" (White, p.123) (emphasis added). This might seem almost childishly simplistic to many scholars today, but it can be related to the supposed triumph of the 'rational', often in the form of Science, over the irrational. The word science means "to know" (from the Latin scio, to know) and the only thing that can be "known" is a fact. Fiction was thus "a hindrance to the understanding of reality rather than as a way of apprehending it"(White, p.123). History was thus placed within a hierarchy that placed it indelibly above, and thus superior, to that of mere fiction. Many historians of this era did not seem to consider the fact that the histories which they were writing depended a lot upon which facts were being considered, and that this just as much choice and imagination went into writing them as in fiction. History dealt with facts, and thus the truth, while fiction dealt with non-facts, and thus lies.
It was only during the Twentieth Century that history and fiction started their long journey back towards one another. In the Nineteenth Century historians did not realize that which seems self-evident today: "facts do not speak for themselves, but that the historian speaks for them, speaks on their behalf, and fashions the fragments of the past into a whole whose whole integrity is - in its representation - a purely discursive one" (White, p.125). It is this "fashioning" which makes history resemble the process a fictional writer goes through when she is creating a world of characters.
The historian takes a historical event, for example, the Fall of the Bastille, and gives meaning to it by creating a kaleidoscope through which the event can be seen. The fact that the Bastille fell cannot be disputed; what that falling means can be. Both history and fiction deal with meaning, and thus can be regarded as different techniques with the same end in mind.   ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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