Different Views Of History Essay

854 words - 3 pages

The authors of After the Fact The Art of Historical Detection, make the assertion that history is not an account of what happened in the past because what happened in the past is only the raw material: "History is not some inert body of knowledge `out there' in the past, but a continual act of construction whose end product is being reshaped and made anew every time someone ventures into the archives" (Davidson and Lytle IX). Davidson and Lytle mean that the interpretation of history changes based on the methods of investigation used by the historian. Interpretations also change based on how long "after the fact" we choose to go back and investigate. Current beliefs, social trends, and a person's racial background can't help but play an influential role in how we perceive a past event.

In chapter 8, the authors demonstrate how recorded observations of a slave's life may have been prejudiced by the people who wrote them: "The vantage point of white Americans observing slavery was emphatically not that of the slaves who lived under the `peculiar institution' nor of those freedpeople forced to cope with their dramatically changed circumstances (181). If a white person during that era were to give an account of the conditions faced by the slaves, it might be biased considering the fact that he/she had never actually been on the receiving end. On the other hand we would probably assume an account given by an ex-slave accurate based on the fact we are receiving the information straight from the source. Our interpretation of history also changes based on whose story you choose to believe. If you wanted to believe that slaves were happy with their lot in life then you might choose to focus on those narratives that support this theory. Davidson and Lytle also point out that when interviewers ask very specific questions that elicit an intended response, the data collected will reflect a bias "Social scientists specializing in interviewing have pointed out that even the grammatical form of a question will influence a subject's response" (187). So, depending on who was doing the interviewing for the FWP, readers get a different picture of what actually took place. An interviewee's responses were also influenced by the race of the interviewer. The ex-slaves were reluctant to even be interviewed. When interviewed they were also more likely to sugarcoat their answers in order to avoid persecution: "In hundreds of ways black people were made aware that they were still considered inferior...

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