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On How (and Why) the World Historian May Achieve Impartiality

Editorial Note: There has been a long-running debate amongst historians regarding whether impartiality is desirable, or even possible, in a history. Our inclusion of these passages does not indicate an endorsement of one view over another. To the contrary, this blog is dedicated to the notion of exploring a variety of viewpoints, even if ultimately we must hold them in tension.

“But what then, it may be asked, about the moral of our story – of our drama? Shall we be content to present the bare facts, and leave their philosophical interpretation to chance?”

“…a wise interpreter of history will be extremely [hesitant] of putting forward his own more or less dogmatic interpretations of the events he relates. It does not follow that no opinion can ever be expressed; indeed, a tacit expression of opinion is implied in the selection of almost every [source]. But witnesses from all sides must be given an impartial hearing in any case where a clear balance of evidence is not attainable…”

“Fortunately the study of world history in itself tends to make for precisely such impartiality. He who has attentively followed the story of the rise and fall of nations will have learned that human nature is everywhere at its foundation much the same; that no race, no nation, no individual even is ideally good or totally bad; that the Past has always been a Golden Age for the pessimist, the Future always utopian for the dreamer, and that a broad optimism regarding the Present – a belief that on the whole the conditions of any given time are about as good as the character of the time permits – is, perhaps, the safest philosophy of living.”

Excerpted from: The Historians' History of the World: Prolegomena; Egypt, Mesopotamia edited by Henry Smith Williams, Volume 1, 1907. (29)

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