Recent events in the news have made me think back to one of my first lectures at University, many moons ago. In the Historical Methods unit, we were being encouraged to think more critically about what we were studying. A good theory. In practice it did far more to fry our brains.
But I digress. This particular lecture introduced the idea of the ‘historical truth’. The idea of truth, the lecturer argued, was absurd. Instead of there being something called ‘the truth’, there are only various different interpretations, which are naturally different based on a persons experiences and perspective.
No such thing as the truth? He must be mad, we all though. But its only by looking back, and having watched Nick Griffins absurd abuse of history, that I see the idea of the truth in a new perspective. Sure, there are some things that are beyond doubt. Water boils at 37 degrees, a normal human being has two eyeballs and sooner or later we all die. But that is all very scientific. Also, every crime must have been committed by someone, and it is the work of the detective to find out who.
Some things cannot be proved. Something more fluid things simply cannot be proved or disproved. Religion, for example. How can you prove a higher being? That is more belief than truth. As Richard Dawkins would say, no-one can offer any proof of this, apart from ‘god works in mysterious ways’. Which is not proof.
Nick Griffin comes from the David Irving school of history. Namely, that they have already decided what they want to see, and select sources and evidence that supports their argument, and ignore everything else. This is not history, it is lying and abusing your position to hoodwink people. It should be a matter of honour to historians that they look at the evidence in an as impartial way as possible, then come to a conclusion. This process if further enhanced by publishing your work, giving talks, and debating with other historians. In this process, something close to the truth usually appears.
A propensity to knowingly lie is not something that you can trust in a Historian. As Professor Richard Evans commented on Irving, his work is completely worthless and he cannot be trusted, due to his track record with evidence. The ironic thing is, the fact that Irving is a denier of the holocaust is one of the most concrete things any Historian could ever come across.
So, the truth is out there. Or is it? Its one of those arguments that will never be solved, and will run and run all the time historians are paid to pick over technicalities. Personally I find historiography rather tedious, and prefer to spend my time actually researching things. But all the same, some idea of objectivity and use of evidence is important to bear in mind, in life as well as in history.