HIStory?

Eddie Cleaver | June 24, 2016

The Oxford English Dictionary defines history as “the branch of knowledge that deals with past events; the formal record or study of past events, especially human affairs”. It is the definitive record of human exploits throughout time.  We study history at school, we refer to it throughout life, we watch it in the making, we use it to learn lessons from the past, to use as a basis for progression and to record achievements, or failures. History gives us an opportunity to leave our mark on the world, to extend our story beyond our short lives. Being annulled into the realms of history allows us to live forever.

But isn’t history just a version of events? Recordings of those holding influence and power, those cultures who developed the written word, one of many versions of the reality of our past. There has been very little input into recorded history by 49.6% of the population for starters. To put so much reliance on historical record or to chase inclusion within it overlooks its most basic flaws. History is littered with inaccuracies, conflicting accounts, misinterpretation, personal influence, perjury, political and religious propaganda, guesswork even. To place so much emphasis on history seems absurd in today’s world of reliance on scientific study. Should it be put in the same category as story, fairytale, legend or religion? It would seem we should take history with a herculean pinch of salt.

Some influential humans live on, immortalised in history while others, many equally as influential, are forgotten. Why do we know of Darwin yet not Wallace, Tutankhamun yet not Hatshepsut, who was Cecilia Payne (the discovery of the elements which make up stars could seem to be of reasonable importance)?

Every scientific theory built upon the unrecognised steps of so many. Every war fought by the unquestioning loyalty of the humble infantryman or the advice of those less celebrated. What of the assistants and collaborators, mentors and supporters, those who often did the hard yards and dedicated their lives with little or no reward. They are lost in time, unable to be heard like ghosts searching for the afterlife.

There are many heroes, less so heroines, and always the obligatory villains. Often two sides of the same coin, just a change in lead characters. Who is the terrorist and who is the freedom fighter?

Do the realities of history even stand the test of time? We laud famous battles and leaders while forgetting the atrocities of war and colonisation. Are the achievements of a football team more important than those of Marie Curie? IMO they could be if that team is Liverpool FC. Is proving a somewhat tenuous genealogical link to Genghis Khan (a genetic test that is widely available) a badge of honour or a symbol of shame? Maybe it is an insight into the male psyche.

What if history tells us more than at first appears, what if history is more than a record of events over time. What if history is a record of what we want it to reflect, a reflection of our hopes and fears, our dreams and nightmares and most likely our egos and desires. It’s almost as if it was HIStory……….  

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