Thursday, August 11, 2005

Objective History? According to Who?

Sorry about the tone of that last post - I haven't been that aggravated since the November elections. Politics sure can bring out my mean streak. So, let me be more thoughtful here. I think of myself as somewhat of a historian. There is an interesting perception out there that history is about facts and dates and events. In other words, history is objective. But is it? I am always amazed that you can present 2 people with the exact same set of facts, and they will come to 2 different conclusions. In other words, interpretations. People bring their own background and frame of reference to EVERYTHING. Everyone has "baggage" - even journalists! So try this litmus test (and if you read this post, please comment on what your initial reaction was):

HISTORICAL FACT: Martin Van Buren's vice president, Richard M. Johnson, who served from 1837-1841, was married to a black woman, and yet the pair won the 1836 election because of electoral victories in the southern states.

In asking people how they take this, most inevitably say that she was probably hidden from the public during the campaign. Most people didn't know about this or they (southerners) would not have voted for the Van Buren/Johnson ticket since they were such racists. However, a few people, of which I am one, have a different interpretation. I believe that this is evidence that maybe whites in the antebellum south were not as racist as we have been led to believe, institutional slavery aside. A very different take, isn't it? So what happened in 1836? Johnson's wife was a big issue. During the election Van Buren's opponents reminded voters that Johnson's wife was a "Negro." Johnson fought back, pointing out that it was not uncommon for plantation owners to have relations with their Negro slaves, the only difference was that he had chosen to marry his wife in holy matrimony under the eyes of God. And still they won the southern vote! Here's a good rule of thumb. The winners of every war write the history. How's that for objective?

1 comment:

Ray said...

History., objective? Not the way it is practiced... In the 'science' of history, you try to pull in all of the facts, observations, et al, that you can.

Then you research and make a determination. It has never been practiced that way unfortunately.

Some examples of the foolishness that passes for history today:

1. Jewish Holocaust deniers
2. The ignoring of the Armenian Holocaust.
3. The real history of the Middle East.
4. Revision of the US History (you mentioned but one example).

And the beat goes on. Most people don't know history, or only know one perspective. The WORST? Religious so-called 'news outlets' that provide a completely revised, or even fabricated history lesson to their lemmings, I mean readers...

Thanks for letting me rant... I covered some of this in my latest post as well...