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Why do historians differ in their interpretations of the past?

Uploaded by supermum on Aug 05, 2002

In the recent past, a story reached public attention because it concerned two historians who had examined evidence relating to the fate of the Jews during the 'Holocaust' Their research led each of them to reach quite different conclusions. Because the subject matter was emotive and highly sensitive, questions concerning the nature of historical authority and the ethical obligations of historians were asked. The resulting debate took place on a public platform and caused Mr justice Gray to make the following observation.

"Irving has, for his own ideological reasons, persistently and deliberately misrepresented and manipulated historical evidence" (Guardian April 2000)

David Irving and Deborah Lipstadt had looked at the same event but did not agree on what they saw. This account will explore some of the reasons why scholarly investigative research produces such a polemic.

Perhaps the most interesting element in Justice Gray's indictment is the use of the word 'deliberately'. It could be argued that historians can be gulity of misrepresenting and manipulating evidence, but this might be through negligence or ignorance or just plain oversight. the word 'deliberately' suggests an altogether different agenda, and attempt to make the evidence say what you want it to say. In Irving's case, his conclusions have betrayed perhaps his right wing sympathies. Other historians have approached key historical events from differing ideological perspectives and consequently reached different conclusions. One could recount how Eamon Duffy, a Roman Catholic, gave a very positive view of pre-Reformation Catholicism in England in his huge work 'Stripping the Alters'. However, the humanist historian Scarrisbrook found that this same church was unpopular, corrupt and needed to change. It is discrepancies such as these that have caused philosophers to doubt whether the real truth about the past can actually be established

(Part II of this essay will follow shortly-unless you think its rubbish!!)

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Uploaded by:   supermum

Date:   08/05/2002

Category:   History

Length:   1 pages (300 words)

Views:   8356

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