The Case for Starting with Bad History

The Case for Starting with Bad History

Anyone who reads this blog knows I’m a lover of history. I often have book suggestions and lists for you to browse that I label “good” history. But today I want to deal with the relatively controversial topic of “bad” history.

What “Bad” History?

I’ve been mulling over this idea in my mind that it is usually a good idea to begin learning where and when you can. Begin where you are is my motto. Of course you can’t and don’t – and won’t – stay where you are if you read and study and learn enough.

Consider the boom in current historical fiction. Books and movies and Netflix shows – there is supposed history all around us. “But that’s not how it happened!” and “Revisionist!” is the cry we often hear. And let’s not forget “Fake news!” Surely, we should avoid bad history, right? I mean, it’s a lie.

But wait, I say. (And don’t call me Shirley. Heh.)

Bias is Inevitable

We’ve been listening to the Histories of Herodotus in the car on drives while running errands. And while there is much that is informative in it, the true value of listening to Herodotus is in the entertainment of it. History is a narrative, after all, and Herodotus manages to maintain a veneer of factual reporting while letting slip some pretty liberal use of “so I’ve been tolds.”

All this to say bias is inevitable. No matter where you start, depending on where you stand, history looks different. There’s no sense in denying it or trying to make it “fair.”

In fact it is in the trying that we most belie our biases.

So why not start there? Start with bad history, if you must. At least it gives you something to think about – something to sink your mental teeth into. Then go from there. Argue, sound out, find out. Learn and grow. Look at things from various perspectives.

Then create your own. If nothing else, you will have worked your way through some fallacies and created an argument.

And in the process, you will have learned more than a simple rendition of the facts.

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Author: Purva Brown

Writer / blogger at - unapologetically blending two seeming opposites.

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