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The Study of History: When Historians Lost Focus

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The way historians study history must have them primarily focus on finding the truth and straying from narrative writing because it not only encourages equality and free thought, but it also falls back on the main goal of history. Many historians find themselves writing persuasive papers vs. informative writings on matters of history. This sets up many problems for the audience they are writing and teaching to, as the audience trusts them. A historian explaining a topic in a manner that shows the good and the bad parts of the occurrence allows the audience to come up with their own opinions on the matter. 

Over time, when things are retold over and over again, the truth can get lost. If historians speak on both the pros and the cons of happenings in history, it can help prevent the truth from becoming muddied over. Speaking on the good and bad decisions made in history can help encourage equality by showcasing everyone who made a change for the nation– not just white men. By focusing on the truth and not the narrative a paper may bring, it allows people to not only think for themselves, but it allows our history to be seen as what it was– not perfect, but important.

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The goal of historians may seem to be a simple answer, but it is far more complex and should not be viewed at surface level. The main goal of a historian should be to educate the present on the happenings of the past in a way that is easier for them to understand. However, historians often use the past to push narratives and write history from their perspective, not a general look. It is impossible to be unbiased, but these historians understand what they’re doing. Whitewashing and manipulating information in history is not something that is done by accident. 

Modern-day historians are working to fix the lies that have been written in textbooks for years. The modern-day goal of history is to give an accurate representation of historical happenings– but even some of them do the same. These historians essentially hold values that are the opposite of traditional historians but are still manipulating information in a similar way. The way history is written is corrupt, and the new goal of history should focus on accuracy. The United States is divided, and being so focused on politics prevents the writing down of accurate information. This has posed an issue for the nation in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

The high amount of inaccurate information that is currently being brought to light, poses a need for criteria on who can qualify as a reputable historian. In current time it seems as if the criteria is solely based on whether or not you enjoy history– but that’s why the current view on history is so corrupt. Historians must be driven by both interest, and discovering and sharing the truth. As said before, the main goal of history is to share what happened in the past with the present, and a historian needs to share that same goal. Historians need to be in touch with the present as well. Once they find the sources and information, historians must find a way to present it in a way that the present is willing to indulge in. 

Being in touch with the audience and understanding the current day will aid in not only sharing information but understanding it as well. For example, a historian may write a 50 page paper on the Boston tea party, but won’t be able to reach an audience because, in current times, people cannot find the time or will to read it. If that same historian formed the conclusions in the format of a video or through a song, they would reach a larger audience. It’s important that historians go about sharing the past, in a manner that is efficient for the present. These few qualities and ways of understanding are the criteria for individuals to be considered a historian.

Having something that responds well with your audience may be crucial, but it is important not to lose the credibility behind the information that is being shared. For example, the infamous “Hamilton: The Musical” written by Lin Manuel Miranda seems like a beautiful piece of art that can reach and teach the youth. However, the writing actually does more harm than good. The truth of Alexander Hamilton is manipulated in order to make the musical more interesting. 

It is important to gauge your audience and provide them with something that they’ll enjoy, but it is crucial to not allow that to overshadow the main point. Creating love triangles and dramatizations of certain relationships can be harmful if the main goal is education. Perhaps Lin Manuel Miranda’s goal wasn’t to educate the youth on the founding father as much as it was to entertain. There’s no doubt that he worked hard on the musical, but it should be taken with a grain of salt when it comes to using it to help educate. That being said, it is important that historians do not give up credibility for a larger reach, as even the smallest changes in details can alter the perception a person may have on a figure.

The truth is constantly misconstrued with history, and it is partly to do with politics and the constant narrative writing that is found in studies today. History today is and has been white-washed. There is an overwhelming amount of “white heroes” that are painted in a positive light. These same individuals had morals that are drastically different from the ones modern society holds today. However, the true thoughts and feelings of these white, slave-owning, men, is usually glossed over because of their contributions to the colonization of the country. 

While studying, it’s important for historians to make sure they branch out. It’s crucial they focus on studying the truth, and steer away from claiming everyone they study is a “hero”. A huge goal of historians nowadays should be to find the people of color who greatly influenced American history, but were skipped over in the past due to the color of their skin. Racism is still a problem today, and historians are on the frontlines of the battle. The truth is warped, and modern historians today are actively trying to fix the damage that pre-modern textbooks have done.

All this talk about the truth and how the American people are constantly lied to via textbooks can cause certain figures to be questioned. Whilst utilizing an excerpt of writing from C. Behan McCullagh as a quick reference on how counter evidence can be overlooked, let’s investigate George Washington. Washington helped build up the economy for his eight years in office, and showed civilians that people can lead without becoming dictators. However, George Washington held a lot of power to change things, but never did. 

The most notable flaw of George Washington is the fact that he owned slaves. After the revolutionary war, he began to think it was slightly immoral to own them, but he never made the choice to abolish slavery– or sell his own slaves. Not only did he own tens of slaves, but he utilized their teeth as well. There is a famous (but inaccurate) thought that George Washington had wooden dentures. In reality, the teeth he used were usually from humans, and the humans he took them from were his slaves. No pain medication, risk of death from infection, and loss of teeth were issues that George Washington had no problem giving to his slaves for a pair of teeth. He “wanted to” free slaves, but only allowed his slaves to be freed once he and his wife had passed. 

At the time it was something big to do, as slaves were something usually written off as an inheritance in wills, but the people of today should hold American figures accountable. Yes, the man aided the construction of the country greatly, but his moral values were flawed. In textbooks, things like the pulling of teeth and exploiting human lives for money, are usually hidden. People who owned enslaved people are not people who should be considered heroes. There are plenty more examples of famous figures who have done the same, and viewing both sides of these individuals is the best way to present the information. Do not gloss over their poor choices, as buying and selling humans is a choice made– not a flaw they are born with.

This way of prioritizing the truth and utilizing current technology is not only something that should be used for history but can go hand in hand with science as well. Scientists are always creating hypotheses in order to find the truth and are constantly debunking myths. It’s also something that people in everyday life could use to find this information in history. Striving for the truth of things is something humans do by default, and historians need to go back to their roots in order to achieve that goal. Something that was not touched on too much is how historians can utilize technology to change the perception of history. 

Utilizing technology to get a larger reach is the way that historians need to go. Apps like Tik Tok and YouTube can help historians reach a younger audience and do so in a modern way that can shape the way history is perceived. Many people stray away from history because they find it boring, but that is simply because of the way it is being taught to them. Studying primary sources is important and needed, but when it comes to secondary sources like textbooks, there needs to be a different way that information is presented. It’s important these videos are trustworthy and brought to the consumer by reliable sources. Even though the truth can easily be manipulated, informing individuals on the truth of historical happenings should always be the primary goal of history and should not get lost in the personal bias of those writing secondary sources. 

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