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I’ve heard a few people say that you can’t trust any version of history, that is it by nature biased. Some even go so far as to assume all history as we know it is revisionist by nature. Or even worse, that we can’t truly know what the past was like. But anyone can find out what is rewritten and what is not.

Historical document

Historical document (Photo credit: svv)

Okay not everyone. Most will never even think to read historical documents from the time in question and are beholden and at the mercy of textbooks and commentators. But they exist. We can determine authenticity of such sources. They are available for ANYONE to take a look for themselves, and anyone lying will be caught and confronted and refuted on sight. That’s just how it works. We can KNOW even more surely what happened a hundred years ago than what happened yesterday in so many respects.

And even if that were not true, we don’t have a luxury to believe it, because the alternative is to not understand at all, and understanding is exactly what is needed in such times. Events don’t just continue to spring from the present, but are trajectories of the past, all of them. We can’t afford not to know what direction the currents of events are flowing.

I say this as someone who truly studies history. Other people think that means a collections of unknown facts from who-knows-where and the victors write the story, blah, blah, blah, but that’s not true. Not even close. The bodies of contradictory knowledge and commentary upon commentary scrutinizing every fact, every assumption, every detail is there. The hard work was and is still being done. It is almost impossible for much of what we know not to be true under this level of rigorous evaluation. It is only the interpretation and speculation on the unknowns that is questionable in any reasonable sense.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t different ways to tell the story, bias and all that. But there are facts to support or undermine any story, without which, well … they’re just stories. And we can demand more than that.