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The Importance of Bias in History

Uploaded by David Thomlinson on Mar 03, 2004

Bias plays a weighty role in history and in historiography and without it the study of history would not be where it is today – “One- sidedness lies at the heart of history”1. In saying this however bias distorts the truth, creates a preset agenda, can create untrue facts and destroys the role of history in the development of political institutions and decisions. Bias does however play a small advantageous role in history, it allows for historians to study the perspectives of various individuals, to understand why societies as well as individuals did what they did and for what purpose.

Bias is a ubiquitous section of history. Firstly, “An Intelligent Person’s Guide to History” states that history is based on facts, and facts are based evidence. However there is bias in evidence, all people have a bias, there is a bias in the interpretation of evidence as well as in the creation of it. Vincent also states that history itself has a bias towards the rich over the poor, the brave over the weak and the intellectuals over the stupid. Bias is built into the very foundations of history.

Bias is useful for some historians as it shows perspective. The role of the historian is to “recapture the reasons which lie beneath action by recovering experience”2 and this is where the importance of bias and perspective become apparent. The study of perspective is imperative in understanding the reasons behind the actions of both individuals and society. The study of perspective is foremost as history is not just the study of the event but rather the catalyst or significance of that event. For example a historian does not only study Malcolm X and his abhor of the peaceful methods of Martin Luther King Jr. for obtaining civil liberties, but also the reasons behind his beliefs and perspective. In the words of Leopold von Ranke “wie es eigentlich gewessen”3. Although perspective and bias can play a useful role in the study of historical sources, the role it plays in the study of history and the creation of secondary sources is not so favorable.

Bias is a prevalent section of history, “It is the extreme difficulty of naming any historical writers who are not well and truly biased”4. All people grow up and live with either a bias towards their society...

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Uploaded by:   David Thomlinson

Date:   03/03/2004

Category:   History

Length:   4 pages (834 words)

Views:   5720

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