Andrew Pregnall: Reflections on “An Introduction to Richard Evans’ In Defence of History”

Through examining the work of German historian Sir Richard Evans, Macat History Analysis explores whether it is possible to write a true account of the past. In 1997, Sir Richard Evans published the book In Defence of History in which he pushed back against the postmodernist idea that it is impossible to write an objective account of the past. Per­ postmodernist theory, “all accounts of the past are constructs” because we (historians) have no way of knowing how sources were created or how our readers will interpret our writing. Ultimately, postmodernists argue, history can only be a study of texts – not of objective truths.

Me after listening to the part about Nazis

According to the video, Sir Richard Evans argued against this idea in two ways: First, he argued that since postmodernists view all histories as equally valid, then they must accept the viewpoint/history of a holocaust denier and a concentration camp survivor as equal. Furthermore, Sir Richard Evans argues that postmodernists arguments are inherently fallacious because they believe their version of history is more valid than a historian who believes it is possible to write an objective account of the past. This belief conflicts with their argument that all writings of history are equally valid.

I thought this video did an excellent job of succinctly describing the viewpoints of Sir Richard Evans and postmodernists. Obviously, there are many nuances to each of their viewpoints that were lost when their entire books or ideologies were distilled into the video; however, I feel as though I could start an intelligent conversation based on what I learned in the video (which is often my personal metric for whether or not an educational YouTube video did its job well).

Finally, I found this video interesting because it touches on many of the debates that are currently going on the field of journalism: Is it possible to write an objective account of the news? Should journalists give all viewpoints equal credence in the name of objectivity? Is it better for journalists to claim objectivity or to openly claim their biases? For sure, journalists and non-journalists alike have been heavily debating questions like these for decades; however, since President Trump started his campaign in 2015 and eventually came into office, these debates have had an increased vigor. (Or perhaps that’s my construction of history based on my personal experiences. Ooooh, postmodernism). Columns like “This week should put the nail in the coffin for ‘both sides’ journalism” argue that there is such a thing as truth-telling and objectivity in telling the news, and that journalists should stop pretending that “both sides” have an equally valid claim. Personally, I believe that there is such a thing as truth and objectivity in history and the news. I also believe, however, that there is room for viewing history/the news through constructions/ideologies/lenses so long as basic truths remain in place (easier said than done, I know). Ultimately, I found this video to be an excellent example of how we can apply lessons from this class to “real world” situations or our future careers.

Sources

“An Introduction to Richard Evans’s In Defence of History – A Macat History Analysis.” YouTube. October 29, 2015. Accessed September 04, 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WU59ZX4QyFk.

Word count: 511

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *