Sunday, November 30, 2008

Objectivity and the Voice of the Historian

Most folks today accept that while journalists may strive for objectivity, very few actually reach it. Teachers, those involved in politics in the 1990s, and scholars know that history has a similar problem, that historians try to be fair and balanced, but there is only so much room in the history books, and only so many stories one person/text book/exhibit can tell at any given moment. But it does seem that the average museum visitor, and even the average museum, can happily ignore this thorny truth, and take the word on the exhibit label, or from the mouth of the pilgrim, as truth, and will probably be not much worse off.

But oh, us poor scholars that get to dig deeper, to make everyone’s understanding more profound, hopefully better, we end up uncovering other people’s bias, and often our own as well. Knowing that there is no such thing as a perfect historical truth, deep and wide, beyond a few facts that seem relevant to the moment, what is a historian to do?

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