No one is a good historian of the patent, visible, striking, and public life of peoples, if he is not, at the same time, in a certain measure, the historian of their deep and hidden life; and no one is a good historian of the interior unless he understands how, at need, to be the historian of the exterior also... True history being a mixture of all things, the true historian mingles in everything.
Once upon a time, a historian told me that the most important choice a new historian could make was of his or her specialist subject. Most of the good stuff was far too overcrowded, so you had to pick about in the exotic and extinct. His recommendations were the Picts or the Minoans, because hardly anything was known about them and you could spend a happy lifetime of speculation.
A. A. Gill
A historian tries to understand what happened, why it happened, what was the context, who did what, and what assumptions led them to act as they did. A historian customarily displays a certain diffidence about trying to influence events, knowing that unanticipated developments often lead to unintended consequences.
Anyone, however, who has had dealings with dates knows that they are worse than elusive, they are perverse. Events do not happen at the right time, nor in their proper sequence. That sense of harmony with place and season which is so strong in the historian--if he be a readable historian--is lamentably lacking in history, which takes no pains to verify his most convincing statements.
The art historians are the real wreckers of art, Reger said. The art historians twaddle so long about art until they have killed it with their twaddle. Art is killed by the twaddle of the art historians. My God, I often think, sitting here on the settee while the art historians are driving their helpless flocks past me, what a pity about all these people who have all art driven out of them, driven out of them for good, by these very art historians. The art historians' trade is the vilest trade there is, and a twaddling art historian, but then there are only twaddling art historians, deserves to be chased out with a whip, chased out of the world of art, Reger said, all art historians deserve to be chased out of the world of art, because art historians are the real wreckers of art and we should not allow art to be wrecked by the art historians who are really art wreckers. Listening to an art historian we feel sick, he said, by listening to an art historian we see the art he is twaddling about being ruined, with the twaddle of the art historian art shrivels and is ruined. Thousands, indeed tens of thousands of art historians wreck art by their twaddle and ruin it, he said. The art historians are the real killers of art, if we listen to an art historian we participate in the wrecking of art, wherever an art historian appears art is wrecked, that is the truth.
The only excuse for a novelist, aside from the entertainment and vicarious living his books give the people who read them, is as a sort of second-class historian of the age he lives in. The "reality" he missed by writing about imaginary people, he gains by being able to build a reality more nearly out of his own factual experience than a plain historian or biographer can.
John Dos Passos
So, then, the best of the historian is subject to the poet; for whatsoever action or faction, whatsoever counsel, policy, or war-stratagem the historian is bound to recite, that may the poet, if he list, with his imitation make his own, beautifying it both for further teaching and more delighting, as it pleaseth him; having all, from Dante's Heaven to his Hell, under the authority of his pen.
It is one thing to write as poet and another to write as a historian: the poet can recount or sing about things not as they were, but as they should have been, and the historian must write about them not as they should have been, but as they were, without adding or subtracting anything from the truth.
Miguel de Cervantes
. . . What role does historiography play in the way a society and culture "remembers" past events? Does the historian have a moral or civic responsibility to this project of memory that ought to influence the way he or she engages in historical practice? Should moral concerns influence the historian's choice of subject matter, of issues to discuss, of evidence to use?
Michael L Morgan
One cannot be a good historian of the outward, visible world without giving some thought to the hidden, private life of ordinary people; and on the other hand one cannot be a good historian of this inner life without taking into account outward events where these are relevant. They are two orders of fact which reflect each other, which are always linked and which sometimes provoke each other.
Hardly a pure science, history is closer to animal husbandry than it is to mathematics in that it involves selective breeding. The principal difference between the husbandryman and the historian is that the former breeds sheep or cows or such and the latter breeds (assumed) facts. The husbandryman uses his skills to enrich the future, the historian uses his to enrich the past. Both are usually up to their ankles in bullshit.
When I meet a historian who cannot think that there have been great men, great men moreover in politics, I feel myself in the presence of a bad historian, and there are times when I incline to judge all historians by their opinion of Winston Churchill -- whether they can see that, no matter how much better the details, often damaging, of man and career become known, he still remains quite simply, a great man.
As a historian I understand how histories are written. My enemies will write histories that dismiss me and prove I was unimportant. My friends will write histories that glorify me and prove I was more important than I was. And two generations or three from now, some serious sober historian will write a history that sort of implies I was whoever I was.
[from Some words about 'War and Peace'] For a historian considering the achievement of a certain aim, there are heroes; for the artist treating of a man's relation to all sides of life there cannot and should not be heroes, but there should be men. [... ] The historian has to deal with the results of an event, the artist with the fact of the event. An historian in describing a battle says: 'The left flank of such and such an army was advanced to attack such and such a village and drove out the enemy, but was compelled to retire; then the cavalry, which was sent to attack, overthrew... ' and so on. But these words have no meaning for the artist and do not actually touch on the event itself. Either from his own experience, or from the letters, memoirs, and accounts, the artist realizes a certain event to himself, and very often (to take the example of a battle) the deductions the historian permits himself to make as to the activity of such and such armies prove to be the very opposite of the artist's deductions. The difference of the results arrived at is also to be explained by the sources from which the two draw their information. For the historian (to keep to the case of a battle) the chief source is found in the reports of the commanding officers and the commander-in-chief. The artist can draw nothing from such sources; they tell him nothing and explain nothing to him. More than that: the artist turns away from them as he finds inevitable falsehood in them. To say nothing of the fact that after any battle the two sides nearly always describe it in quite contradictory ways, in every description of a battle there is a necessary lie, resulting from the need of describing in a few words the actions of thousands of men spread over several miles, and subject to most violent moral excitement under the influence of fear, shame and death.
Contemporary art is based on that an artist is supposed to go into art history in the same way as an art historian. When the artist produces something he or she relates to it with the eye of an art historian/critic. I have the feeling that when I am working it is more like working with soap opera or glamour. It is emotional and not art criticism or history of art.
The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger's slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend, partly on chance, but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use - these two factors being, of course, determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants. History means interpretation.
Edward Hallett Carr
Silence!' Korbolo snapped. He eyed Duiker. 'You are the historian who rode with Coltaine.' The historian faced him. 'I am.' 'You are a soldier.' 'As you say.' 'I do, and so you shall die with these soldiers, in a manner no different-' 'You mean to slaughter ten thousand unarmed men and women, Korbolo Dom?' 'I mean to cripple Tavore before she even sets foot on this continent. I mean to make her too furious to think. I mean to crack that fae§ade so she dreams of vengeance day and night, poisoning her every decision.' 'You always fashioned yourself as the Empire's harshest Fist, didn't you, Korbolo Dom? As if cruelty's a virtue...
History is about the past. Yet it exists only in the present - the moment of its creation as history provides us with a narrative constructed after the events with which it is concerned. The narrative must then relate to the moment of its creation as much as its historical subject. History presents an historian with the task of producing a dialogue between the past and the present. But as these temporal co-ordinates cannot be fixed, history becomes a continuous interaction between the historian and the past. As such, history can be seen as a process of evaluation whereby the past is always coloured by the intellectual fashions and philosophical concerns of the present. This shifting perspective on the past is matched by the fluid status of the past itself.