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Writing History

Good history is written with the intention of describing an event or events undistorted by one's egocentricities and passions and to describe with enough detail that the created picture is basically accurate. This in my opinion is the proper motive for a historian. This is different from writing propaganda or a tract. It requires an attempt to take into account perspectives outside one's own head — an ability that we should acquire when growing out of infancy.

The first modern historian-journalist is said to have been Thucydides, author of History of Peloponnesian War. He made a conscious effort at impartiality. Of Thucydides the historian Herbert J Muller writes that his detachment was "especially admirable because he was himself deeply involved in the war." Thucydides wrote down the exact speeches of participants in the war. He avoided poetry, choosing instead the precision of prose, knowing that prose would have less appeal.

Good history is more than art. It's more than telling a story with imagination. Historians have archaeology to draw from. They have primary documents that tell them what people were declaring. They cannot verify the way scientists can, but they can be empirical. One is being empirical if he writes that the Avesta describes Zoroaster as God's prophet; one is being religious if he writes that Zoroaster was God's prophet.

Describing an event as the will of God may be heartfelt, but it is not empirically factual. Believers write history (Arnold Toynbee for example), but many of us do not accept that people know as fact the intentions of supernatural beings.

CONTINUE READING: Science as a Subset of Philosophy

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