Monday, June 9, 2008

Let me tell you a story...

The old cliche is that everyone has a story to tell. Not only is that true, but what is also true is that everything that surrounds us and makes up our lives is part of a story. This applies not just to the world of entertainment - virtually everything we perceive and can imagine is part of a story.

Beginning with our earliest creation myths, our earliest tales of the gods, warfare, nature and politics, mankind has told stories to pass on information, attempt to explain what is difficult to understand and yes, to simply entertain. Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey were originally memorized by traveling bards and told in the halls of Kings and around the fires of common folk before being written down in ancient Greek. These two tales are among the great literature of the western world and archaeologists have even found some basis in fact in much of Homer's work.

Reading popular/non-scholarly history books can be just as entertaining as reading great literature. The difference is that what you are reading is fact and not mostly fiction like the fantastic tales of Homer and others. Or is it? Writing history (for the most part) is simply telling a story. It is an historical narrative, filled with the names of famous people, important dates, great battles, wars and empires that changed the course of human events. It is a narrative that is part of a collective memory and heritage of a particular nation at a particular point in time. And over time this narrative can change, just as times change. Added to this is the fact that different nations, for varying reasons, will put their own interpretation on events to fit their own narrative.

This is just one aspect to be kept in mind when reading and studying history. You also have to include the personal prejudices of the writer(s), the time at which the work was written, is this taken from a first-hand account (a diary, letter or autobiography) or something second or third hand? Finally flat-out mistakes find their way into print all of the time, either through laziness, faulty memory or through relying on the wrong source. (The Internet universe, unfortunately, is full of such misinformation).

I find myself constantly fact checking simple information for my own studies and for this blog. I try to be as accurate as possible in my writing by checking and re-checking my facts, but I still catch myself making mistakes. As for my own prejudices in writing - just like every other writer who has ever lived - I am a product of the times I live in.

So, let me tell you a story...

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