readings (15)

17 May 2012

Who was History written for? On identity theft, grave digging, revisionism and our obsession with finding the truth…Part 1

Who was History written for? On identity theft, grave digging, revisionism and our obsession with finding the truth…Part 1

Once upon a time in a land not so far away where the vast majority of people were illiterate, a letter was written by one who could write and sent to one who could read.
The writer of the first letter was a man and the person he sent it to was a woman.
She wrote back and a cycle of letter writing continued until each had a series of letters.
Over the years, the woman died in a house fire and everything was lost – letters, records, everything….
Some years later, the man died of a broken heart but had kept all the letters she’d written to him in a box.

Now, imagine this…

Years later, you stumble on someone’s diary and take a peek.

At first, you stop yourself from reading it because you know it’s personal. But out of curiosity, or weakness or both, you read on. In fact, you read until you’ve read it all and now you feel you know this person as well as you possibly could.

Now, imagine this…

You’re curious about some of the stuff you’ve found in that diary and you want to find out more. You no longer stumble on information, but actively seek it until one day you find some letters in a box.

As it turns out, the letters (though personal) belong to the same person whose diary you’ve read. 
So, as someone who claims to know enough about this person to consider yourself an expert, you decide it fit and proper to read this person’s personal letters as well and close this chapter of history.

Besides with all your knowledge, there are still things you know absolutely nothing about. So, in the interests of science,  you painstakingly piece together all the information in the letters and tie them in with entries into the diary and hey presto! You’ve got what you believe is an accurate profile of this person - a person you’ve never met, but one you feel you know better than anyone else alive. 
You’re probably right too because afterall, who’s left around to argue.

The writer of the letters turned out to be a man and the person he wrote the letters to always had the same name and she was a woman. There were things written in the letters that implied a love interest, so you hazard a guess that they were lovers. Of course, without her letters you can’t be sure, but now you’ve got enough to go spreading the word that he and she were lovers. The public who hear it start to believe it too because it makes sense and afterall, who’s going to question an expert?...


  1. Great post and absolutely true! As a history student I found this particularly interesting. We need to be aware that as long as there is no time travel (the little nerd in me just wrote that) we will only find an approach to history but never an exact pictre and the further back we go, the larger the gap is to reality. Consider also the development of language and the alteration to the meaning of certrain words. Even over such a short period as 10 years a word's meaning can change significantly, so without the input of a living person we might be lost there. Take for instance the word "gay". While now is refers clearly to "homosexual" a few decades back it basically just meant "happy".

  2. Thanks for the comment Maria. It's made me very 'gay' indeed! You're spot on of course. The message isn't so much in the words as in the interpretation - the Bible being a classic example (a patchwork quilt of views or interpretations of stuff that happened eons ago first translated and then interpreted by others in countless languages and stitched together for the masses to's mind-boggling how people just buy that stuff!), but there lies the ongoing fascination with history and the search for the truth...and it does sell! : ) J.D.