Writing – The Essential Medium of History


"It is obvious that the materials for the writing of history consist for the most part of written records. It is true that all manner of monuments, including the ruins of buried cities, remains of ancient walls and highways, and all other traces of a former civilization must be allotted their share as record to guide the investigator in his attempt to reconstruct past conditions. But for anything like a definite presentation of the events of bygone days, it is absolutely essential…to have access to contemporary written records, either at first hand, or through the medium of copyists, [when] the original records themselves have been destroyed…"

"[A] tradition of a past event is hardly transmitted orally from generation to generation with anything like accuracy of detail for more than a century." […]

"An individual papyrus or parchment roll could hardly be expected on the average to be preserved for more than a few generations; and unless copies had been made of it in the meantime, the record that it contained must inevitably be lost. Such has been the fate of the great mass of historical writings… [and when it does come down to us, the work has often] not come down to us quite in its entirety…"

Excerpted from: The Historians' History of the World: Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia edited by Henry Smith Williams, Volume 1, 1907. (6-7)

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