The Historian Who Likes History

“The historian who likes history for what it is—once living men’s experiences—and not as raw material for a conclusion, takes the empiricist path. He deals with stubborn facts as every mind deals with the flux of experience—attending, comparing, making distinctions, finding likenesses, and perhaps arriving at modest unities, rather than starting and ending with one large one. That different historians give divergent accounts of the ‘same’ past also corresponds with the experience of life—it is taken differently. Only an All-Knower could see it whole and ‘right,’ and access to his mind is not easy. Fortunately, in actual knowers the several perspectives affect meaning more than brute facts, so that after reading several histories of the same events the scene becomes clear, the truth grows by repeated takings. At that point it is most unlikely that the childish, colorless idea of a single cause will convince. The business and pleasure of history is to recapture an intuition of bygone events by imaging their (plural) conditions.” (Jacques Barzun, A Stroll With William James, p. 127)

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