The Ongoing Pursuit of Historical Truths

Rewriting History in Pursuit of Truth:

The Historian’s “Most Important Work”

“Many histories represent preconceived ideas rather than conclusions deducted from a study of facts…”

“[Each] new day may enable us to readjust our vision, to see the past in a truer perspective, to clear away the mists that have obscured the truth.”

Under the title Why History is Rewritten? Vassar College Professor Lucy Maynard Salmon wrote about why subsequent generations need to “rewrite” history. She did this in a 1912 article and in a posthumously published book in 1926 with that title.

In addition to the constant pursuit of a greater truth, Salmon advocates the rewritting of history for other reasons: new information and discoveries and new ways of studying history (could she have imaged the internet?).

Salmon History Rewritten

“Among all the many challenges that confront the historian…none is more serious than that of the necessity of constantly rewriting history.”

History Rewritten: An Example

One of DCHS’s annual awards is the Helen Wilkinson Reynolds award, given to those successful “in the necessary and accurate search for historical truth.” One of the reasons Miss Reynolds earned such a reputation was her 1925 published research on the mis-naming of Poughkeepsie’s Clinton house. A misnomer that remains to this day.

HWReynolds HWR Clinton House 1925

The Danger of a Single Story

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie. A 2009 TED Talk with over 23 million views: “Our lives, our cultures, are composed of many overlapping stories. Novelist Chimamanda Adichie tells the story of how she found her authentic cultural voice — and warns that if we hear only a single story about another person or country, we risk a critical misunderstanding.”

Why we pursue historical truths, rather than a truth.