Friday, May 7, 2010

The Internet is a funny place.........

Started out just trying to verify a quote of Charles Beard's four
lessons of history, but veered off into some unexpected places.

Beard (1874-1948) was a big proponent of economics as the
causal engine in history. He read economic motivations (class
warfare) into the Constitution. He read economic motivation,
instead of the question of slavery, as the primal cause of the
Civil War. His tracking of history was influential, until, out of
an isolationist bent, he took on FDR and WWII. Beard's
influence subsequently waned. Still, he wrote some great
stuff. He concluded a 1935 essay, That Noble Dream, written
about the historian's quest for "objective truth" in the
American Historical Review, with this:

"Through the discussion of such questions, the noble dream
of the search for truth may be brought nearer to realization,
not extinguished; but in the end the members of the
American Historical Association will be human beings, not
immortal gods."

It is a good reminder. While reading Beard's essay, I recalled
one of my history professors saying that "history gets written
by the winners". Thinking I should know who first opined that
led me on an inconclusive Google search- although it did turn
up this great quote from Churchill:

"History will be kind to me, for I intend to write it."

Churchill, one of my all time favorite people, did write the six
volume The Second World War. He was pretty much central
to the whole war, so, in theory, his account could be considered
gospel. But, any account of the Second Great War that leaves
out the story of Enigma (the fact that the Allies had broken
the Nazi's communication code and were reading their mail)
has to remind us that the writers of history "will be human
beings, not immortal gods".

All this brings to mind a quote from the speaker at last
week's Rotary meeting:

"People and organizations should seek to be informed
by history, but not constrained by it."

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