We’re taught history like we’re taught maths or physics – as fact.
Whether it be in school, in books, or on the TV, history is the record of the past from which we must learn and from which we can understand our heritage and cultures. History, however, is somewhat misleading.
What we are taught as facts are really just stories. Stories of what the storyteller believes, or wants us to believe, happened in the past. No matter how much evidence historians provide, the reality is that all historians are piecing together limited information in an attempt to build a complete picture, and they are interpreting the evidence with their own personal and cultural biases.
It doesn’t mean that our historical accounts are not factual, but simply that we cannot blindly assume that they are.
We can gain perspective of history’s accuracy simply by looking at the present. Even with modern forensic and surveillance technology, it can be hard to put together a sufficiently solid body of evidence against a suspected criminal for the jury to be convinced that the suspect is guilty beyond a shadow of a doubt. Yet we unearth old documents, news reports, inscriptions, paintings, artefacts, and ruins from the past and believe that we can accurately piece together stories of how people lived and the events that took place. How can we believe that the evidence is really what we think and that our accounts of history are accurate, when most of us would struggle to put together an accurate account of what we did last week?
Viewing history as fact closes our minds to the many other possibilities of what may have happened in the past and prevents us from doing our own investigation or analysis. By failing to question history, we allow those who control the stories that we are told to manipulate the future by manipulating the stories of the past. It’s important that we learn from the past; but, for history to be truly valuable, we must dare to question it, explore multiple theories, and feel free to form our own opinions. The only thing that we can be sure of is that history is a collection of stories, and only some of them are true.