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Can We Really Trust Our History Books?

Updated on December 26, 2016
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Rebecca Graf is a seasoned writer with nearly a decade of experience and degrees in accounting, history, and creative writing.

There are some things in life you naturally want to trust. Any man of the religious cloth, we like to think we can confide in. We like to think we can trust law enforcement, teachers, and leaders of our community. We all know that while we lean toward trusting them, a few have proven to be completely untrustworthy. The same can be said for the history books that teach us and the next generation. Can we really trust them?

Revising History

Yes, history can be revised to show what the writers of said history want to show. There has always been a trend to revise history to say what the winners want to say. Let’s take the Holocaust for instance.

Despite what actually happened during World War II, many claim that it is all a hoax. It doesn’t matter what really happened or what the evidence shows. They say it didn’t and create the ‘facts’ to prove it. The new history goes down into the history books. Why? Because they don’t want to believe it is true. Who writes that history? The ones who want to discredit others.

Keep in mind that history is not blatant truth as you might think. There is always a spin to it.

It’s All About Perception

There is an old saying that the history books are written by the winners. In truth, that is very accurate. Look at the American Civil War. How were the battles named? By the winning side. Whenever the North won, the battle was officially named after the closest town. Whenever the South won, the battle was named after the closes river or geographical name. The winner got to name the site, you could say.

If the Nazi’s had won the war, would we be writing about how bad Hitler was? We would be singing his praises because he was the winner. Only generations later would the truth start to be revealed in writing. The person writing the history books rarely can keep their biases from their work. But a good writer tries his best.

A controversial topic is the settling the New World. Decades ago the books talked about how stupid the Native Americans were and that the new settlers only did good to the land. They had to fight the natives as they were always trying to kill them. Perception swayed the writers of the textbooks to raise a generation that truly believed this. Then the pendulum swung too far the other way in more recent times. The textbooks showed how the natives in the New World were living their lives peacefully only to have the Europeans come in deliberately wanting to kill them all and steal their land. As always, the real truth lies in the middle and has to be intentionally sought by those studying history. Neither side was completely evil nor completely innocent.

Unbiased Studies

A true study of anything, especially history, requires the student to approach the subject with an unbiased view. That doesn’t mean that you don’t have an opinion. It means that you go into the study using sources from all sides. In order to find the truth, you need to be open to listening to all sides.

Want to know the truth about the Bush/Gore election? Read both sides of it. Read the Republican histories and the Democratic histories. Then do something totally radical and read primary documents. Read the letters and articles from the time and the people who were there. Again, read both sides. Read them all. Then reassess the scenario. You might still possess the same opinion, but your understanding of the situation might be more enhanced. Still disagree with one side, but having a better understanding of their stance is a result worth its weight in gold.

The Best Way to Study History

Studying history is best done by not using only one source. Read sources from many different opinions and sides. Listen to all arguments and theories. Explore everything you can find on the topic. Read the far left and the far right. Read those in the middle. Step back and see beyond the biased words.

Don’t trust your history books. Look beyond them. The truth waits for you.

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