The honesty of history

Francesca Beddie in The Australian recalls the serve Honest History received from Nick Cater of the same publication. Cater described our website, us and our President, Peter Stanley, as ‘condescending’ for targeting ‘history that is tendentious, unjustified, exaggerated, distorted, partial or unbalanced’. Beddie sees the Cater outburst as an indication of a revival of the ‘history wars’.

Beddie then segues into a thoughtful review of Richard Evans’s book Altered Pasts: Counterfactuals in History.

At the heart of these debates [about counterfactuals in history] lies the question, ‘‘Can there be honest history?’’ Perhaps not; it is always subjective. Good history, though, is, to quote John Lukacs, a ‘‘construction that is not only dependent on but strictly, very strictly, circumscribed by what we actually and honestly know’’.

Lukacs is correct. The thrust of our Honest History initiative is that history can be both subjective and honest. History is always interpretation. What makes it honest is the strength of the evidence that supports the interpretation. What makes it dishonest is the lack or misuse of evidence. History can also be dishonestly used by people, particularly governments, with barrows to push. Other reviews of Evans’s book: Guardian; Times Higher Education Supplement.

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