There is a very practiced and nuanced format to which persons are expected to adhere when conducting professional and credible historical work. The aforementioned form falls under the umbrella of historiographical processes. Of these processes, the unequivocal importance of objectivity stands as a cornerstone, a pillar of necessity that deems lesser all other tenants of “good” history.
Just like that, I have single-handedly inserted a very strong, albeit obvious, bias into my work regarding the unparalleled importance of objectivity. While it is important to understand objectivity, or the ability to present information in an unbiased and accurate way, it is not the sole determining factor that dictates a strong work of history. The way in which a lack of objectivity can gloss over detail and different perspective is what makes it such a
danger to the historiographical process. It is usually right around now where people start to roll their eyes and yawn as the idea of historiography is not an overly compelling one. Historiography’s lack of luster may make it difficult to study, however, it is still an important concept to understand as it will bring one’s writing to a higher, more refined level.
Once again, ever so subtly, I inserted a simple counter. I acknowledged a common perception, or belief that could serve as a bias when learning about historiography. This acknowledgement of bias can somewhat negate it and serve to make a stronger point.
I digress, however, we must move on to why objectivity in history is in fact important, and touch on several of the more common forms in which objectivity, or, more accurately, a lack there of has impacted how we view the world.
As everyone’s favorite Prime Minister (more bias right there look out) so eloquently stated, “history is written by the victors.” That statement is true on a variety of levels. If we look back to World War II, the general consensus is that the Allies were good, the Axis bad. While a compelling case can be made for that stance, it deliberately ignores detail. By making something black and white, we lose sight of the grey, and its that grey which so often gives character, context, and reason for much of what we see in history.
A Higher Call is an excellent book that really calls out the importance of understanding context and the background when studying history. In the book, the protagonist, a German fighter pilot escorts a wounded American bomber back safely to Allied controlled airspace. The book goes into detail about the German pilot, Franz Stigler, and how he was not himself a Nazi. He considered himself an honor-bound knight in service to his country. Understanding that makes seeing all Nazis as “bad” much more difficult. It also creates layers to history where the importance of underlying motivation can ripple across time. Here we are some 70 years later, and this story of unusual compassion still strikes a chord.
History is a complex, beautifully woven tapestry of a diverse and intensely nuanced past. This is what makes it so fascinating, but when we let our objectivity by the wayside, we allow bias to slip in, and bias is blind. We lose sight of the whole picture and once that happens it becomes impossible to analyze any period of history no matter how seemingly simple the matter at hand may be.
Below is a video that says what I have tried to convey in a much more sophisticated and refined way. I highly recommend giving it a watch to get a better idea of just how important objectivity is, and how it really has impacted every facet of our historical perspective.