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To what extent, does a historian’s conclusion be regarded as correct?


September 30, 2016 by Nancy Jung

When we are having the TOK presentation, Celia mentioned that “history’s evidence might be more subjective than natural science’s evidence”. I agree with her statement. That is because while in natural science, the scientists often support their theory by the repeated experimentation, in the field of history, the historians do not withhold their theory by repeating the experiments. Rather, the historians study the collective sets of past truths and make the argument. If their argument is accepted by the majority or authority, even through not agreed by everyone, then it might be accepted as correct. Then, a knowledge question is raised in my mind: to what extent, does a historian’s conclusion be regarded as correct?

History is the study of the collective past events. The historians study the past events because they attempted to be confident on their conclusion. Thus, conclusion made by the historians is based on the historical facts, which do not change over time. Paul Kelly had argued that the more correct arguments “begin from an appraisal of past errors and achievement”, the conclusion can be accepted as correct after approached from multiple perspectives.

However, history can not reach to the absolute truth because history involves humans. The historical facts are interacting with human, which involves many variables, so the history needs to be perceived by the human imagination and emotion. Emotion and imagination offer the imaginative interpretation of historical facts. In order words, history “creates” the reality. As a result, historians need both the scientific and artistic ways to attach to a conclusion and this implies some problems of conclusion.

One of the problems that the historians face is the aspect of time. Hakan Arvidsson has stated that “the historican is exorably trapped by the spirit of the time.” People are affected by the period in which they live, and therefore their attitude and thought might be different in the different society. Despite the historical facts does not change over time, the interpretations of the historical facts change. German’s attitude on Jewish Holocaust is different in World War II and in recent. While German historians nowadays regard the Jewish Holocaust as a shameful event, historians in at period did not think so. Thus, the spirit of the time affects the historian’s interpretation.

Another problem is the different backgrounds of the historians. The historians with different backgrounds can reach to the different conclusions from the same facts. For instance, there are several arguments about the cause of the World War I. Whereas some historians states that Germany was guilty of starting the WW2, some German historians argue that several other countries were equally guilty. These arguments are influence by the force of emotion, and during this process, historians creates the insecurity on the conclusion.

In conclusion, the knowledge of history can be regarded as the combination of the subjectivity and objectivity, so it is extremely difficult to arrive at absolute truth. So the historian’s conclusion can never be accepted as an “absolute truth”, but if the historical facts have been presented and the historians critically interpreted the past event in the proper context, the conclusion might be regarded as “correct”.


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