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"In a post-truth world, how do we study history?" Topic

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Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP08 Feb 2020 10:43 p.m. PST

"Post-truth politics, and the way it is reshaping the public sphere, poses an existential threat to the study of the past.

On 27 January 2020 we mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The existence of the Nazi concentration and extermination camps and, specifically, the campaign to use them to eliminate the Jewish people, is one of the best attested events in history. But five months before the anniversary, director Ken Loach was asked on tape: ‘There was a discussion about the Holocaust – did it happen or didn't it?' and he replied, ‘I think history is there for us all to discuss.' History is a discursive subject, but in the context of the question posed about Holocaust denial, Loach's response was, at best, an equivocation, implying that the fact of the Holocaust was up for debate. A few days afterwards Loach wrote a letter to the Guardian to ‘clarify' that his ‘words have been twisted' and ‘the Holocaust is as real a historical event as World War II itself and not to be challenged'…"
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Jcfrog Supporting Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 3:02 a.m. PST

Only the approved version, suitably watered diwn and diversified. Otherwise reeducation camp.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 3:13 a.m. PST

His words were twisted, no doubting that. His meaning is clear in my view – history is ALWAYS up for discussion but outright denial of recorded facts is not discussion.

History has been and will undoubtedly continue to be used by bigoted and unscrupulous people (including some historians) to support an agenda that has nothing to do with history.

If you can have senior politicians claiming a 'witch hunt' when they are caught in wrongdoing and being supported for political ends even when their guilt is obvious then what chance does history have !!!

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 4:01 a.m. PST

Ken Loach would seem to be an extremely unlikely holocaust denier. So the obvious conclusion is that his words were taken out of context in order to misrepresent his meaning.

surdu200509 Feb 2020 4:39 a.m. PST

If you can have senior politicians claiming a 'witch hunt' when they are caught in wrongdoing and being supported for political ends even when their guilt is obvious then what chance does history have !!!

GildasFacit, political discussions are banned on TMP. I think you should limit your comments to playing with toy soldiers, particularly when you are ignorant of the facts and the US political system. You can fill volumes with what is NOT reported in a biased media.

Tango, I generally appreciate the things you find to post on TMP, but this is a topic best suited for other boards and was almost guaranteed to be be bait for political comments. You might consider a little self censorship.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 5:30 a.m. PST

surdu – I think you should take a broader view of world affairs, the US isn't the only nation where this has happened. I wasn't actually referring to that particular politician but to a rather larger number of politicians in a number of nations in a similar position.

Specifically not naming any individual or nation is a way of keeping within rues that I generally approve of. What I don't particularly approve of is individuals making comments about my knowledge of something when they have no idea whether I do or do not have knowledge.

Biased media is a part of the problem brought up by this post but constantly jumping on and off bandwagons and ignoring the effects of what the OP refers to as the 'post-truth' world by refusing to accept criticism is another.

My concern is for the veracity of historical reporting and to think that that can be discussed without raising aspects of current politics (in a general way) is naïve.

HMS Exeter09 Feb 2020 8:14 a.m. PST

Once upon a time, society was on guard against charlatans, mountebanks, prevaricators, hucksters, frauds, phoneys, cheats, dissimulators, shammers, fabricators, you know, fat a$$ed liars. And once caught out, their reputations would restrict them to somewhere between janitors and people, one town over, seeking help to remove tar and feathers.

I have no idea how something as incomprehensible as a post truth era could come to be, but maybe resigning ourselves to the acceptability of it is where we departed the road of sanity, and maybe the starting point on the road back.

A line from the miniseries "Chernobyl." "Every lie incurs a debt to the truth." They's a lot of people out there eyeballs deep in debt. Maybe we should stop accepting their trade.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 8:40 a.m. PST

This discussion paints no miniatures.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 10:15 a.m. PST

Gildas, given there were such a thing as a "post-truth era" calmly denying what you have just done in public would presumably be one way of arriving at it.

Fortunately, there is no such thing. There are now, but there have always been, people who think opinions, feelings and taste are more important than mere fact, and people who prefer a falsehood which supports their position to a truth which undermines it. None of them are historians--though some now lecture in History departments.

"We" study history the way we always have--by studying primary sources and attempting to verify them, and posting our work in such a way that those who follow after can see how we arrived at our conclusions. No different now than in Gibbon's day--or Oman's of Ranke's, and different from Herodotus only in greater care to note sources. And if there is a non-totalitarian society a century from now, it will be no different then.

There are things which change with time and circumstances. But there are things which don't.

Old Glory Sponsoring Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 10:28 a.m. PST

What really, really, really happened at Waterloo?

arthur181509 Feb 2020 12:52 p.m. PST

Napoleon did surrender…

Perris070709 Feb 2020 1:10 p.m. PST

Nice Arthur, nice. Still on my play list.

Perris070709 Feb 2020 1:12 p.m. PST

On topic, we will still study history the way that we always have and understand that we will never know for certain what really transpired. History is always based upon perception.

Tango01 Supporting Member of TMP09 Feb 2020 3:31 p.m. PST


"… History is always based upon perception…"

Not historical documents?…


Grelber09 Feb 2020 5:39 p.m. PST

I've noticed in some of the archaeological articles that TMP has linked to that some of the archaeologists seem to believe they are recovering The Factual History, while the documents historians use are subject to question, perhaps even slipping into the category of fantasy sometimes.


grenadier corporal10 Feb 2020 12:03 a.m. PST

Historians think that about one third of documents in the Middle Ages were forged (or faked in more modern words), one of the best known examples being the so called Privilegium Maius.
So much for relying on documents …
The more we delve into historical research the more we see the problems to draw even near to objektive truth.

Wolfhag10 Feb 2020 4:50 a.m. PST

The clickbait versions of history:
The secrets of the battle of Waterloo
What really happened at Waterloo
The 10 things you need to know about Waterloo
What Napoleon was really thinking about at Waterloo
Who really won the battle of Waterloo
Who really lost the battle of Waterloo
Where the battle of Waterloo actually occurred
Everything you need to know about Waterloo
Etc, etc.

This is history and journalism at its worst.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP10 Feb 2020 7:49 a.m. PST

No, Perris. Or at least not as a blanket statement. We advance history by interviewing eyewitnesses, studying written accounts, examining surviving artifacts and sometimes even by experiment. From these we arrive at facts.

The fact of, say, the Battle of Antietam and the overall sequence of events is not "a matter of perception." Who gave the order to move a particular division in a particular direction may be unknowable at this stage--not enough careful cross-examination of persons in 1862/63--but like the origins of the Lost Order, there's a fact behind it, whether we know it or not. The gas chambers of Birkenau and the killing fields of Katyn are facts, not "perceptions."

When you go from discrete events to "causes" or "consequences" you cross a line. They're generalizations at best. But to be generalizations worth discussing, they have to acknowledge contrary facts, and be based on facts and reason alone and not the political convenience of this or that faction. That simple standard spares one a great deal of useless reading. But there is no other standard.

von Schwartz10 Feb 2020 7:13 p.m. PST

GildasFacit, political discussions are banned on TMP. I think you should limit your comments to playing with toy soldiers, particularly when you are ignorant of the facts and the US political system. You can fill volumes with what is NOT reported in a biased media.

That's a big +1 surdu2005, I don't wanna say anymore cuz I'll just end up in the dawghouse

Blutarski11 Feb 2020 12:36 p.m. PST

Re Herr von Shwartz's above comment. Quite concur.


GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP11 Feb 2020 3:21 p.m. PST

Pity you didn't bother to read my reply, it would have saved you the effort of making pointless posts.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Feb 2020 3:14 p.m. PST

Gildas, I'm pretty sure we all read your reply. We just didn't take it any more seriously than you did.

GildasFacit Sponsoring Member of TMP12 Feb 2020 3:34 p.m. PST

Robert – why is it Americans seem to be so stubbornly blinkered that they can only take account of what happens in their own country ?

Your assumption that I was misleading you is insulting and untrue – the first candidate that came to my mind was actually from Israel, closely followed by some of my own countrymen.

You yanks really do need to get out more !!!

Wolfhag12 Feb 2020 4:28 p.m. PST

You yanks really do need to get out more !!!

We do, we go to Disney World.


robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP12 Feb 2020 5:06 p.m. PST

It's a hard life. People keep shouting "Yankee go home!" and then when we do, they complain we don't travel enough.

I lived overseas five years, Gildas, and spent another dozen where foreign news trumped domestic. If that's not enough--well that's all you're going to get. The only things left on my list are Chawton Cottage and the new location for Bosworth, and they are just not worth being stuffed into an airliner again, or dealing with the TSA and passport bureaucracies. Anyone who wants me overseas again will have to draft me first.

May I ask how much time you've spent in North America? Any of it between the Appalachians and the Rockies?

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP12 Feb 2020 11:19 p.m. PST

Ha! That last paragraph is quite a good point, Robert P.

Loads of Brits have been to the US, but mostly to the coasts. I know any number of people who've been to New York, Florida, California etc. Anyone been to, I dunno…Iowa? No?

That said, GildasFacit has a point. He made a point and it was assumed that he was talking about something he wasn't, despite him posting a clarification!

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2020 5:13 a.m. PST

Cerdic, Gildas is either the victim or the beneficiary of the "no politics" rule, and I don't know which. He can't cite chapter and verse--naming names--of the non-US instance he says he was thinking about, and his critics can't explain why his example was so suspiciously like the beliefs of one of our own political factions concerning our own very recent history. Since "post-truth" in the United States is a term primarily used by that faction, jumping straight to a political example didn't help.

Possibly the lesson is not to skirt the border of the rule?

Cerdic Supporting Member of TMP13 Feb 2020 7:54 a.m. PST

Well, I think we are all aware of the potential US example!

To be fair, there have been numerous examples in the UK of politicians doing stuff they shouldn't and attempting to style it out when discovered. I'm sure there are in all countries! It's just that they are less 'high profile'.

I would agree with you that GildasFacit may have been wiser not to mention a political example. But, hey ho, none of us are perfect!

Maybe some of the respondents to his post may have been wiser to simply advise him to steer clear of politics?

Instead, he got told that he couldn't possibly know what he was talking about. That doesn't seem fair to me. How can anyone here know what someone else does or does not know?

US politics is very heavily reported in Britain, so many people here are quite well informed about it. So GildasFacit may well have a detailed knowledge. If he was talking about US political events, of course. Which he wasn't…

Just out of interest (nothing political Bill, just comparing media cultures), is Boris' Caribbean holiday being reported in the USA?

Sgt Slag26 Feb 2020 1:54 p.m. PST

In Minnesota, they have stopped teaching all but a narrowly focused sliver of history: they no longer teach about the World Wars, Hitler, the Holocaust, or even America's War of Independence! They stopped teaching it around 2000…

As George Santayana said, "Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Those who do not remember their past are condemned to repeat their mistakes. Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it. Those who fail to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors are destined to repeat them." They also stopped teaching cursive writing. In 30-40 years, no one will be able to read the US Constitution anymore, they will have to look at 'translations' of it… God help us.

Personal logo McLaddie Supporting Member of TMP27 Feb 2020 11:26 a.m. PST

Facts have become partisan. They are only true if spoken by someone trusted--that has always been true in the historical community as well as political to some extent--even on the TMP.

While that has been the case throughout history with different groups and individuals, it is all together different to actively promote and purposely reinforce that viewpoint.

There are three kinds of historical truths when it comes to facts and evidence. [Basic Historiography]

1. Evidence accepted as fact because of the nature of the evidence and historical study.
2. Evidence that exists, but there isn't enough or of the right quality to extablish something as accepted fact. It is still open for debate until more evidence is found.
3. There is no evidence to work with. It is an open question.

Those who say that history is all interpretation and nobody agrees tend to only see #2 in process. Those who insist we will 'never know what really happened' tend to focus on #3.

Those who insist there are no 'facts' or truth tend to ignore #1.

Blutarski28 Feb 2020 8:08 p.m. PST

McLaddie wrote – "Those who insist there are no 'facts' or truth tend to ignore #1."

….. And this is the most insidious case – when historical fact is knowingly ignored, hidden, distorted or misrepresented by parties in fanatical pursuit of some utopian agenda of overarching importance to them.

A very dangerous intellectual cocktail indeed.


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