Cece Burger: Can History be Objective? By Matthieu Watson Santerre

Matthieu Watson Santerre is a Master’s student in History of International Relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science. Santerre has published and posted several articles on a variety of topics. In September of 2014 he decided to address the question, is there an amount of time between facts and historical analysis/writing that allows for subjectivity and bias to be removed? I.e. can history be objective? He was prompted to share his answer to this question after being asked by a reader.

Santerre explicitly tells the reader he cannot speak for all historians but from his personal learning and research, he feels objectivity in history is impossible. He stresses that history is not a hard science but a social science in which bias can never be fully eliminated. Santerre states, “To better understand history, I think historians should begin to admit their limitations.” Santerre admits his own limitations by providing a personal example. He has chosen to study Emperor Franz Ferdinand and his role in WWI, in doing so he is bound to place more importance on him than someone who studies WWI from an American perspective. Through self-deprecation, Santerre shows innate predispositions that come with any study, inclusive of his own. Santerre concludes his article asserting that history is not meant to give absolute truths, but rather to “present facts and interpret them.” The strive for objectivity is important, however, its limitations must be acknowledged and explored.

This resource gives the personal view of a student of history in a frank writing style with controlled lengthiness that is not expected of an online opinion article. Santerre takes a methodical and honest approach to the question of objectivity in history but does not dive very deep into the topic. As a student of history, I value the opinions of my peers especially those in higher learning so the read was enjoyable. Santerre provides convincing reasoning to back his stance that historical objectivity is unattainable. Moreover, Santerre states the dangers, “By constructing subjective interpretations as fact we create dangerous preconceptions and myths.” and provides a solution, “We must accept [history’s] limitations. We need to be more open about it.”  While these may be overly simplistic they are straight to the point and easy for a reader to understand.

Source:

Mattieu W. Santerre, “Can History Be Objective?” The Art of Polemics. https://theartofpolemics.com/2014/09/05/can-history-be-objective/, Accessed 5 September 2017.

Word Count: 395

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