1: What is HISTORIOGRAPHY? (You’ll need to do a bit of internet research
here). Is history really an objective collection of “facts”?
Historiography is simply the study
of the manner in which a historian expresses and presents historical
information. It can be considered a form of art that connects all of the
pieces of the historical puzzle to form a coherent image. In Howard Zinn’s “A
People’s History of the United States of America,” there is an overarching
theme that suggests that it is impossible to depict a compelling account of a
historical event without emphasizing biased narratives on a subconscious level.
This is demonstrated when Zinn compares the role of a historian to that of a
cartographer and states, “The historian’s distortion is more than technical, it
is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any
chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of
interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.”
Based on this evidence, history
really isn’t an objective collection of “facts.” To be more specific, facts
should not be thought of as solid and rigid building blocks for our past.
Referring back to the original notion that historiography is a form of art, the
facts should instead be treated much like easily distortable clay blobs that
don’t have a definite shape until the historian himself transforms them into
artwork that can appreciated by the world. This is why no two historical
accounts are the same- a truth that is similar to the common belief that no two
pieces of art are identical. Thus, history is not impartial; it is actually
quite the opposite. It is a subjective and powerful form of art that is
simultaneously vulnerable to manipulation.
2: How does Henry Kissinger define history? What is Howard Zinn’s
approach to history, and how does his differ from the description of
Kissinger’s type? Be Specific!
Kissinger defines history as “the memory of states.” The concept behind this
terse assessment is that the actions that a nation takes are not made by the
poverty-stricken working class, but rather by those in governmental positions.
For this reason, Kissinger seems to take the stance that the opinions of
subjugated groups of people were irrelevant in the global stage. For instance, Howard
Zinn mentions Kissinger’s historical account, “A World Restored,” and comments
that, “From his standpoint, the ‘peace’ that Europe had before the French
Revolution was ‘restored’ by the diplomacy of a few national leaders.” It
becomes apparent that Kissinger deliberately places less emphasis on the lower
classes in his interpretations because he believed the success of the leaders
of a nation were more indicative of a nation’s status within history and that
they were more influential on the outcome of major events in history.
Zinn’s approach to history is that nations do not have homogeneous cultures and
beliefs, so it would be misleading to only present history from the perspective
of the state. The key difference between Kissinger and Zinn’s approach to
history is that while Kissinger aims to exemplify the linear progression from
conflict to peace, Zinn has the intentions of embodying the symbolic cycle between
life and death within his accounts. Zinn’s approach implies that history is
always being reborn and that it is up to the historian to showcase how each
element plays an integral role within this cycle. Zinn even goes on to state
that, “In the long run, the oppressor is also the victim. In the short run (and
so far, human history has consisted only of short runs), the victims
themselves, desperate and tainted with the culture that oppresses them, turn on
other victims.” In other words, the roles of the victim and the oppressor are
always gradually shifting, so it is important to document these transformations
by examining the viewpoints of both.
3: How does Zinn’s account of Columbus’ expedition and the subsequent
“settling” of the Americas impact the notion of “progress” that is often touted
in conventional histories? Does this account make you feel differently
about this historical episode?
Zinn’s account of Colombus’ expedition and the subsequent “settling” of the
Americas proved the progress that is touted in conventional histories to be a
rather arbitrary mask for the atrocities that were committed. While sacrifice
is sometimes necessary for the greater good, it became apparent that the
progress that occurred had little to no positive effect on most people.
According to an excerpt from Hans Koning’s book “Columbus: His Enterprise,” the
Spanish conquest of the native people of the Americas failed to make their nation
any wealthier, increased inflation, and didn’t give them enough of an advantage
to win any wars. Therefore, one could argue that this wasn’t truly progress, and
that this point in history should not be regarded as highly.
account has definitely influenced my own personal opinion of Christopher
Colombus as a historical figure and the exploration of the Americas by European
nations. When the emphasis was shifted from the discoveries that were made, it
allowed the mass carnages that occurred to be brought to the forefront. When
considering the value of thousands of human lives versus a few bits of gold
dust, it was astonishing how quickly my perspective changed on the entire
episode. Especially when reading how generous the natives were to their
European counterparts, it was not difficult to form a strong stance against the
murders of the natives when it was not hidden in false narratives of bravery
and progress. Zinn’s account utilized intelligent phrasing to make sure that
these massacres were not lost in the background.
addition to the above written responses, jot down a few of your thoughts
concerning the following questions: As students of history, what lessons
and skepticisms should we keep in mind when reading someone else’s historical
narrative? What should we keep in mind when being taught history?
Is it important to know different histories? Are alternative
histories in any way dangerous?
In order to truly achieve a comprehensive
grasp of the past, it is important as students to view history through multiple
different lenses that include the viewpoints of both the conquerors and the
subjugated. However, I take the standpoint that history, like many disciplines
of knowledge, is not necessarily organized into a cluster of events with
black-and-white sides of opposition. There is always a gray area, namely an
unassuming group of people that silently witnessed otherwise polarizing
historical events. Thus, it is imperative that we take advantage of these
onlookers’ accounts to receive the full picture. However, it is also important
to note that because history takes so many forms, that certain accounts can
either be deceptively in favor of the oppressors or the victims. Any good
historical account will have a balance that includes both sides to minimize the
warping of how the past is remembered. It is definitely essential to know
different histories, because even the same information can be molded into
different forms to reveal a new creation.