Histories (and his facts)

‘Ignorance is the first requisite of the historian, ignorance which simplifies and clarifies, which selects and omits’. The modern historian must cultivate an ignorance – the more so the nearer he comes to his own times. The historian has the dual task of discovering the few significant facts and turning them into facts of history and of discarding the many insignificant facts as unhistorical. But this is the very converse of the 19th century heresy that history consists of the compilation of a maximum number of irrefutable facts.


History cannot be written unless the historian can achieve some kind of contract with the mind of those whom he is writing. Yet the historian is obliged to choose: the use of language forbids him to be neutral. Nor is it a matter of words alone.

What is history? A continuous process of interaction between the historian and his facts, an unending dialogue between the present and the past.

  • We do not know much about societies in the past due to the historical ignorance.
  • We cannot tell what facts of the present are going to be historical in the future.
  • But we can identify features of the past communicative contexts, including what kinds of societies were shaped by the media.

We drive into the future using only our rear-view mirror’. – McLuhan 1961 (Playboy)

These notes are from my semester one lectures and seminars.
I do not own the above image, it is from: http://www.northgate.northants.sch.uk/course/history/

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