“What Are Historical Facts, P. 331-335” Kayla Mizelle

Carl L. Becker in, “What Are Historical Facts” pages 331-335 attempts to help aspiring historians understand where a historical fact exists. He explains that a historical fact exists either in the mind of a person or it does not exist at all. He explains that an event could be recorded and written down but with out a historian to make the event “come alive”[1]  it doesn’t really exist anywhere. It could essentially be hidden in an archive forever unless a historian tells its history. Becker also explains that people have long memories and believe in historical facts because it is the way it exists in their memory, therefore, that historical fact exists in the memory of the mind of a person. Becker also says that no historian is able to simply represent an entire event. Rather the historian can make affirmations that build on the event forever. According to Becker the historian instead should choose affirmations and then make assumptions about them.  Becker says, “It is the historian who speaks that imposes a meaning” [2]  he means that it is the historian who does not mirror affirmations that really understands the subject.

Becker’s approach in this section of the article is to explain to historians why they cannot just relay information to people but rather they have to have their own assumptions to make the history as he calls it come alive. He uses what he believes to be a very well known historical event which is Lincoln’s assassination. He uses it to show that the fact exists in the mind through memories of how it was taught. He also uses it to show that historians can just build on affirmations forever but it is more important for them to create an opinion.

I feel as though Becker makes a lot of good points. I think he is very abstract in his beliefs by saying that facts really only exist in the mind because that could be said about anything. However, I agree with him because historical “facts” are not concrete but rather they are a rendition of an account. The parts where he talked about history needing to come alive really resonated with me. I want to be a teacher and the best way to get my students in the history as I believe it to be is to make it come to life and create images in my student’s heads just as they are in mine.  Overall I feel that Becker really described exactly what gets me excited about history, the ability to make assumptions on affirmations.


[1] Carl L. Becker, “What are Historical Facts?” The Western Political Quarterly 8, no. 3 (Sep. 1955): p. 332.

[2] “What are Historical Facts?” p 335

Word Count: 447