Writing a Story for Humanity: Can We Trust History?

Do you think we can trust history?
What kind of story is history?

If you couldn’t tell from my website, stories are a passion of mine. In my professional life, I create narratives and tell brand stories to consumers. In my personal life, there are three kinds of stories that capture most of my attention:

  1. Japanese anime & manga

  2. Horror, whether movies, books, or comics

  3. History

Right now, I would like to tell you a bit about my passion for history and how I like to tell this story. I have divided this post into two entries: Can We Trust History? And How I Try to Teach History.

History is an incredibly interesting story. Most of the tales we encounter in our life are fictional, like the stories we read before going to bed, the stories we watch at the theater, and the stories about how amazing Greg’s weekend was by the water cooler on Monday. History sets itself apart in a really unique way of being both a nonfictional story and a fictional story.

The ways in which history is nonfiction is obvious. These stories are about real people, in real places, that had a real effect on our lives.

The ways in which history is fiction may be less clear. What I mean to say is that history is an imperfect story. The story of history is normally told with some kind of bias, whether on purpose or not. Think of the commonly repeated Winston Churchill phrase: “history is told by the victors.''

This is more than just revisionism though. It is not only that victorious civilizations win out and then get to write their own version of history. It’s also that well-intentioned people can have a bad memory. Studies find that people tend to forget things very quickly, but their brain generally fills in the gaps with fables unconsciously. This is why eyewitness accounts are considered to be so unreliable today. Think about how this may affect historical accounts.

Furthermore, bad practices or mistakes in record keeping can shroud truth from us. But more importantly, history happened in the past. Everyday we get further from it, we naturally get less accurate from the truth. Think of it like a big game of telephone. The historical event is the original message giver in the game. Each time the message is relayed by a history book or history teacher is the message getting passed down the telephone wire. The only difference is that this game never stops.

Now, can we trust history? Should we trust history?

This is a question I have wrestled with for a long time. Ultimately my answer may be unsatisfying: we have no choice. We have to trust history, or at least tell the story of history. We will never uncover the full truth of what did or didn’t happen in many historical events, but it would be silly for us to completely stop telling these stories and ignoring them.

These stories, whether right or wrong, make us who we are. Alexander the Great invading India, China trading tea with the world, and Aaron Burr shooting Alexander Hamilton. All are key contributions to the amazing narrative of human history. We should always strive to tell history correctly, but we should never abandon telling the story.

In my next post, I will talk a little bit about how I tell history with my Facebook page Snapshot History as well as through other mediums.

Meet the Author : John Knetemann

John Knetemann smiling in a suit

From Denver, Colorado. Educated in Rapid City, South Dakota. Living in Amsterdam, The Netherlands.

The most epic and daring content writer you will find on the east side of the Amstel... And sometimes the west side too. I am from the land of mountains, but now live in the land of very small hills and canals. Truly a native of the internet, I work with companies to build adventurous content, engaging social media identities, and addictively informative email campaigns.

I have turned comments off on my website, but talk with me on Twitter or LinkedIn.